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What is it?

A sprain is a tear of one of the tough bands that hold bones together at the joint. These bands are called ligaments. 

How Are Sprains Caused?

They are caused by putting pressure on a joint that the ligaments are not strong enough to stand. Sometimes the bone gives away and a fracture results, but more often the ligaments tear.

Are They Serious?

Like any injury, they can be. Some sprains are very mild and others are very severe. The most common sprain is at the ankle. Usually they heal well but can lead to a permanent change in the ability of the joint to work properly. Usually this occurs if they are re-injured.


  • Pain – may come on gradually     
  • Swelling – may come on gradually     
  • Bruising – this can develop 1-2 days after the injury and gets worse before it gets better
  • Poor joint stability – especially when turning or changing directions


  • Rest – A sprained joint is weakened and can be easily reinjured. It takes time to heal, typically between a couple days to several weeks. Crutches may be used to keep body weight off of an injured foot or leg.
  • Ice – Apply ice pack(s) for 20 min at a time, 2-3 times/day to the injured area, for the first 24-48 hours after the injury to reduce swelling. Use a towel or cloth between the ice pack and your skin to prevent frostbite.
  • Compression – Elastic bandage or ace wraps are used for support. A brace or splint also may be used as suggested by your provider. In general, it is wise to avoid anything that causes pain at the injured joint. Let your body be the guide. If the bandages become too tight, the fingers or toes may become pale, numb or painful. Loosen the bandage if any of these occur. In the event that the elastic bandage has to be reapplied, remember it should be wrapped evenly and snugly, but not with too much pressure.
  • Elevation – Keeps swelling down and can reduce pain.
  • If the wrist, elbow or shoulder is injured, keep your arm elevated on 1 or 2 pillows at least above the shoulder level for the first 4-12 hours, if possible.  
  • If a foot or leg is injured, keep it elevated above heart level on 2 pillows while lying down for 24-48 hours, if possible. 
  • Over-the-counter medications
    • Tylenol to help relieve pain (take per package instructions)
    • Ibuprofen to help relieve pain and inflammation (take per package instructions)

When to Seek Medical Care:

If you experience persistent pain and disability for more the 72 hours, or rapidly increasing bruising or swelling, despite consistent treatment with ice and elevation, seek medical attention.