A sprain is a tear in or painful stretch of one of your ligaments. Ligaments are short, tough bands of tissue that hold your bones together at a joint.
A sprain is mild, moderate, or severe based on whether your ligament is stretched, partly torn, or fully torn. A torn muscle or tendon isn't considered a sprain.
Cause pain and swelling
Don't show up on x-rays, but doctors may do x-rays to look for a nearby broken bone
Are treated by Protecting the area, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation ("PRICE")
Sometimes require a splint or cast
Usually heal on their own
May require surgery if the ligament is completely torn
You get a sprain if a joint is twisted, stretched, or bent too far, such as from:
Each joint has several ligaments. Sometimes more than one is sprained.
If a ligament is completely torn, the bones in the joint may separate. This is called a dislocation. Even without a dislocation, the joint may be wobbly. This is called an unstable joint.
Doctors examine your injured joint and the areas near it. They may gently move the joint to see if it's working correctly and how badly it's hurt.
If doctors suspect a bone is broken or out of place, they’ll do an:
Because sprains don't show up on x-rays, doctors don't always do x-rays. If doctors need to see how badly a ligament is injured, they may do an MRI.
In the first 24 hours after a sprain, doctors have you do a treatment called PRICE, which stands for:
Protect the injury with a compression bandage or splint
Rest your injured body part by limiting activity or not putting weight on it (for example, by using crutches)
Ice the injured area with an ice pack wrapped in a towel
Compress (wrap) the area with an elastic bandage to limit swelling
Elevate the injured body part as high as your heart, or higher, to reduce swelling
To lessen pain, doctors will tell you to:
Talk to your doctor about when you can start moving the body part:
After a severe sprain, you may need to do rehab exercises. The exercises help strengthen the muscles around your joint and make it less stiff.
The longer you wear a splint or cast, the stiffer your joint will be and the weaker your muscles. Then it will be harder for you to get your strength and flexibility back. Your joint may always be a little stiff and more likely to sprain if you hurt it again.