What To Do After A Sprain Injury?

Written By:
Last Updated:
January 19, 2022

So You Sprained Something, Now What?

First of all, lets understand what exactly a sprain is and what it is not.

What Is a Sprain?

A sprain is an injury to the ligaments - tough bands of fibrous tissue that hold bones together at the joint - that can be accompanied by pain, swelling, and limited functioning of the affected joint. The ligament can be overstretched, partially torn, or in the worst case fully torn. This is different from a muscle strain, in which the fibers of a muscle or tendon are overstretched or torn.

Here you can see the ligaments connecting the bones of the feet, and the ligaments in red indicating an injury, in this case an ankle sprain.


• Pain near affected joint
• Swelling
• Bruising
• Limited movement of the affected joint
• A loud pop sometimes occurs at the time of injury, coming from the joint.

Sprains are most common in the smaller, mobile joints of the body like the fingers, toes, ankles, wrists, and knees. They usually occur when a joint is stressed quickly and suddenly without proper support. For example, jumping and landing unevenly on your foot can cause the foot to twist and put a large amount of tension on a ligament, causing an injury.

3 Grades of Sprains:

• Grade 1: mild tear with some pain and swelling. Movement is usually uncomfortable and only slightly limited
• Grade 2: more severe partial tear with significant pain and swelling. Movement will be significantly limited and uncomfortable.
• Grade 3: complete tear of the ligament with extreme pain and swelling. Movement will be almost if not entirely limited.

What should you do after you sprain a ligament?

Should you see a doctor?

If it is Grade 2, consider seeing a doctor to rule out fractures and ensure proper support for the healing process. If it is grade 3, immediately see a doctor. Here are 3 things to look out for that should demand a visit to the doctor:
⁃ If you can’t move or put weight on the affected joint
⁃ If you have a feeling of pain in or directly on a bone
⁃ If you have numbness, tingling, or other neurological symptoms around the injury

If it is a mild sprain and you don’t have any of the symptoms mentioned above, you can likely treat this at home.

To care for your sprain at home:

Rest - but not completely. You want to rest and allow the injured part to heal, so avoiding any movements that cause significant pain is necessary. Small, light movements will help keep blood circulating and facilitate tissue repair. As your injury heals you can gradually increase both range of motion and amount of stress you put on the injury. It would be wise to avoid exercises that require the hurt joint to bear weight for a few days or up to a week. You will know when you can start to reintroduce movements and exercise when the feeling you have is discomfort instead of outright pain.
Don’t use ice. Despite the age old advice to ice injuries, the newest research suggests that it can slow the healing process. Ice may help numb the nerves, reducing pain. This could especially be helpful immediately after the injury when pain is at its worst. If you feel the need to apply cold to the sprain for pain relief, limit application to 5 minutes and allow the area to warm up completely before another application.
Elevation. If you have significant swelling that causes discomfort, you should be able to use elevation to reduce the swelling without impairing the healing process. Simply elevate the swollen area above the level of the heart (be careful if you have blood pressure or other cardiovascular problems).
Rehabilitate the joint to full function. Once the ligament has formed scar tissue and strengthened itself enough to be used again, you will want to take further steps to make sure you regain full functionality in the joint, and avoid complications down the road. This is where a physical therapist, massage therapist, or other trained expert can help. You will know when you can start this process when you can move the joint through most of its normal range of motion and any discomfort you have is slight. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring this part of the process just because you don’t have pain anymore. The ligament is most likely weakened and might not be moving properly after the injury. It might not bother you now, but unless you take plenty of time to strengthen and stabilize the joint properly it may be prone to re-injury in the future.
Be Patient. Ligaments don’t have a lot of blood supply, so healing takes longer than most other tissues in the body. Be patient and avoid re-injuring the area so you can make a full recovery and avoid having further problems with that joint in the future.

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