A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments — the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect two bones together in your joints. The most common location for a sprain is in your ankle.
Initial treatment includes rest, ice, compression and elevation. Mild sprains can be successfully treated at home. Severe sprains sometimes require surgery to repair torn ligaments.
The difference between a sprain and a strain is that a sprain injures the bands of tissue that connect two bones together, while a strain involves an injury to a muscle or to the band of tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone.
Signs and symptoms will vary, depending on the severity of the injury, and may include:
When to see the doctor
Mild sprains can be treated at home. But the injuries that cause sprains can also cause serious injuries, such as fractures. You should see a doctor if you:
A sprain occurs when you overextend or tear a ligament while severely stressing a joint. Sprains often occur in the following circumstances:
Children have areas of softer tissue, called growth plates, near the ends of their bones. The ligaments around a joint are often stronger than these growth plates, so children are more likely to experience a fracture than a sprain.
Factors contributing to sprains include:
Regular stretching and strengthening exercises for your sport, fitness or work activity, as part of an overall physical conditioning program, can help to minimize your risk of sprains. Try to be in shape to play your sport; don’t play your sport to get in shape. If you have a physically demanding occupation, regular conditioning can help prevent injuries.
You can protect your joints in the long term by working to strengthen and condition the muscles around the joint that has been injured. The best brace you can give yourself is your own “muscle brace.” Ask your doctor about appropriate conditioning and stability exercises. Also, use footwear that offers support and protection.