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When a ligament connecting two bones together is stretched to the breaking point or torn, a sprain occurs. Ligaments are thick and sturdy tissue made of fibrous material, and they bridge the gap between the bones in the body, effectively holding them together at the joint. Ligaments are in place to prevent the bones from making any abnormal or irregular movements. However, falls and other violent forces exerted on ligaments can cause them to stretch excessively or tear, and this type of injury is known as a sprain.


Sprains are common and relatively minor injuries that occur in the ligaments of the wrist, knee, and ankle, and when they are inadvertently extended past their normal capacity, they make a popping or tearing sound. The surface of the skin where the sprain occurs will then start to swell or bruise, and the person will feel a good amount of pain.

Sprains that occur in the ankle are the most common of these kinds of injuries. They cause more pain and take a longer time to heal compared to a broken bone. Sprains in the knee usually take place on the anterior cruciate ligament, and is common in athletes who participate in sports that involve forceful jumping or close contact. Other types of sprains include ankle sprains, wrist sprains, and finger sprains,

When any of the ligaments connected to bone joints incur sprains, the most common symptoms are pain and immediate swelling at the site of the sprain itself. The rule of thumb in sprains is the larger the swelling, the greater the injury is. The affected ligaments become inflamed, and there will be a loss of normal function in the limb with the injured joint ligament. Consequently, because of the injury, the overstretched or torn ligament loses some of its elasticity.

There are many types of sprains depending on the severity of the injury. A first degree, or mild strain involves excess stretching or slight tearing of the ligament. There will be some pain that is exacerbated with each movement, and the injury site will feel tender to the touch. There is very little swelling with mild sprains, and the injured person will be able to put their weight on the affected joint.

A second degree, or moderate sprain involve a tear in the ligament fiber that does not rupture completely. There will be pain and difficulty in movement, and the affected joint will be very tender and swollen. The skin above the injury may become discolored due to bleeding beneath the surface, and the injured person can put weight on the injured joint, but only unsteadily.

Third degree, or severe sprains occur when one or more ligaments are completely torn. The injured person will be in a good deal of pain, and movement will prove difficult. The affected joint will be unable to bear any weight, and will exhibit swelling and discoloration. In most cases, these types of sprains may be indistinguishable from fracture or dislocation injuries due to the severity of its symptoms.

With fourth degree strains, the ligament is torn completely and there may be some small bones in the surrounding area that are broken, as well. This type of sprain may require surgery. Fifth degree sprains involve a separation of all the ligaments in a joint, as well as breakage of all surrounding bone structure. In some cases, when repair is impossible, amputation may be the only solution.
Image: Sprains


Sprains can be caused by accidents like falling, getting hit, or inadvertently twisting a joint. They are usually incurred during sports activities, or when a person is running or hiking. In the case of twisted ankles, a person can inadvertently fall, or take a step on a rough and uneven surface. When this happens, it can cause their foot to roll inwards, thereby stretching or tearing the talofibular or calcaneofibular ligaments that are located on the exterior part of the ankle.

Sprains can also happen when a person is performing everyday tasks, such as slipping on ice, tripping and falling on a wrist, or jamming a finger while opening a drawer. Repetitive activities in the workplace can also result in a sprain.


Sprains are relatively easy to diagnose based on the symptoms of pain, swelling, and inflammation on the affected joint. If the pain becomes severe and no weight can be placed on the injured limb, it is advisable to consult a doctor.

The doctor will ascertain the main symptoms of pain, swelling, and inflammation, as well as any sensation of tenderness or numbness around the area of the injury. The doctor will also determine whether the injured portion of the joint appears crooked, or if there are any lumps, bumps and bulges underneath the skin over the injury.

The doctor will also subject the patient to some routine movements to determine whether the patient can still move the sprained joint. When the patient is unable to move the injury, or is under a great deal of pain, a severe sprain may have occurred. This is also true if the injured limb cannot support the person’s weight, or there are red streaks that appear around the area of the sprain. This is particularly important if the area is in a bony part of the body, or if it is a site that has been subject to several sprains in the past.

In all cases, the doctor will evaluate the sprain based on the level of pain and discomfort the patient has, and if there are signs of bleeding or swelling in the surrounding joints and muscles. To rule out a fracture or break in the bone, the doctor may also order a routine x-ray or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to secure a more accurate diagnosis.


Treating and caring for sprains can easily be remembered in an acronym known as R.I.C.E. Rest for the sprained area; Ice applied to the site of the injury; Compression in the form of dressings or bandages, and Elevation of the injured joint above the level of the heart to prevent swelling.

In all cases of sprains, treatment will depend on the degree of severity of the injury. Mild to moderate sprains will only require simple self-care remedies, such as R.I.C.E., and any over-the-counter painkiller, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Sprains that are more severe in nature may require a brace or a splint, and if the torn ligament is accompanied by ruptured muscles or broken bones, surgery may be necessary.
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