• Sprain

    (Ligament Sprain)


    A sprain is an injury that damages a ligament. A ligament is a firm, fibrous band of tissue. It connects 2 bones across a joint. There are ligaments crossing all of the joints in the body.
    Sprain: Grade 2
    Nucleus factsheet image
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    A sprain occurs when a force pushes the bones of a joint apart. If the force is intense enough, the ligament holding the joint together has to give.

    Risk Factors

    Sprains can occur with everyday activities, but they are more common during sports. Sports with high speeds and risk of collision have an increased risk of sprains. These sports include:
    • Basketball
    • Football
    • Skiing
    • Gymnastics
    Factors that may increase your risk of a sprain include:
    • Muscle weakness
    • Lack of flexibility
    • Coordination and balance difficulties
    • Sudden change in direction
    • Impact with object or other person
    • Misstep that causes a sudden strain at a joint


    Symptoms of a sprain may include:
    • Pain immediately after the sprain—without treatment, the pain becomes worse over the next 24 hours
    • A popping sound
    • Local swelling, often within minutes
    • Bruising
    • Trouble moving the joint
    • Increased pain when putting pressure on the injured area
    The most common joints involved include:
    • Ankle
    • Knee
    • Thumb or finger joints
    • Shoulder


    You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
    Images may be needed of your joint. This will help check for damage to bones or other structures. Images may be taken with:
    Sprains are graded according to the amount of injury:
    • Grade 1—Some stretching with micro-tearing of ligaments
    • Grade 2—Partial tearing of ligaments
    • Grade 3—Complete tearing of ligaments


    Treatment will depend on the joint involved and the extent of the injury. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:


    You will need time to heal, but strict rest is rarely necessary. For most, you should continue to move as long as it does not increase pain. Go about your normal activities as much as you can tolerate.

    Decrease Swelling

    Elevation will help decrease swelling.
    Compression of the area with an elastic bandage also helps to control swelling.

    Ice and Heat

    Ice may help decrease swelling and pain in the first few days after the injury.
    After a couple of days, heat may help loosen tight or injured muscles. Wait for swelling to go away before using heat therapy.


    Medication can help to relieve discomfort and swelling. Medications may include:
    • Over-the-counter pain medication, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen
    • Topical pain medication—creams or patches that are applied to the skin
    • Prescription pain relievers
    Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.


    Rehabilitation exercises may be helpful after the sprain heals. Exercises can help to strengthen muscles and increase range of motion. Medical help is often needed at this stage. It is important to strengthen the muscles involving the joint where the ligament is. Those muscles need protection against further injury.


    It may be difficult to avoid sprains. Joints are at risk during athletic activities. To reduce your chance of getting a sprain:
    • Use proper techniques to help avoid awkward motions and missteps
    • Participate in flexibility, strength, and fitness training


    American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons http://orthoinfo.aaos.org

    American College of Sports Medicine http://acsm.org


    Canadian Orthopaedic Association http://www.coa-aco.org

    Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation http://www.canorth.org


    Ankle sprain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 10, 2015. Accessed June 22, 2015.

    Sprained ankle. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00150. Updated September 2012. Accessed September 6, 2013.

    Sprains, strains, and tears. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/sprains-strains-and-tears.pdf. Published 2011. Accessed June 22, 2015.

    Sprains, strains, and other soft tissue injuries. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00304. Updated July 2007. Accessed September 6, 2013.

    10/26/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Massey T, Derry S, et al. Topical NSAIDs for acute pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(6):CD007402.

    Revision Information

  • LiveWell personal health survey

    How healthy are you really? Find out – free.Learn more

    It's time to stop guessing. If you want to make some changes but just aren't sure how, the free personal health survey from LiveWell is a great place to start.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease and prevent heart attacks. HeartSHAPE® is a painless, non-invasive test that checks pictures of your heart for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.