A sprain is a common injury that involves a sudden stretching or tearing of ligaments. The ligaments are tough, fibrous bands of tissues that connect two of your bones together at a joint. Most sprains are mild, but a severe sprain may require orthopedic care so that you can make a complete recovery of your range of motion and flexibility. Sprains are common in:
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The cause of a sprain is overextending or tearing a ligament. This results in severe stress on the affected joint. Some common circumstances that can lead to a sprain include walking or running on an uneven surface, pivoting while playing basketball, landing hard on your wrist during a fall, falling while skiing, or being pulled back hard by a seat belt during an auto collision. Poor conditioning before physical activity may cause your muscles to be weak, making you more likely to experience a sprain. Failing to warm up before a workout causes your muscles to be tight as you exercise, which can lead to tears and overexertion. If you continue to play well after you start feeling tired, the fatigue could lead to a sprain. Playing sports or walking on a slippery surface or using poor equipment may also cause you to sprain a ligament. Wearing old, unsupportive shoes could also contribute to injuries such as an ankle sprain.
The symptoms of sprains happen right after the injury and tend to get worse about 24 hours later. After about 48 hours, your symptoms should start to diminish. The common symptoms of a sprain include pain, swelling and a loss of range of motion of the joint.
At the time of your injury, you might hear or feel a popping sensation from within the joint. If you find that you cannot move the joint, you cannot take more than a few steps without intense pain, or you have numbness in any part of your painful area, you could have nerve damage as well.
When you have a mild sprain, your doctor may recommend that you take an over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. You may apply ice to the area as soon as your sprain happens. If your pain is severe, you may be given a brace or splint.
Physical therapy can help you to strengthen your ligaments and muscles. You may be given exercises to do at home to strengthen your soft tissues and restore your range of motion. Your orthopedic physician may also give you a brace or splint to prevent any further injury to the joint.
If you experienced a tear to the ligament, surgery may be needed. Surgical repair of the tendon can help to restore your range of motion. Athletes may want surgery to ensure a return to their peak performance. After surgery, you will need to rebuild strength in your ligaments through stretching exercises.