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Sprains

Definition

A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament. A ligament is a band of tissue that connects two bones. The sprain occurs when the ligament is extended beyond the normal range for a particular joint.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the injury?

Sprains occur when a joint is knocked out of position by a fall, hard blow, or other injury. Some common causes of sprains include the following:
  • falls, particularly falls onto an outstretched arm
  • motor vehicle accidents
  • obesity or overweight
  • overstretching, such as during an exercise warm-up session
  • running on an uneven surface
  • sports injuries
  • work-related injuries, such as repetitive stress injuries from overusing a joint or extremity

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the injury?

An individual can lower the risk of sprains by taking the following measures.
  • Build muscles through a regular conditioning program.
  • Do daily stretching exercises.
  • Wear shoes or boots that fit well and are appropriate for the planned activity.
  • Eat a healthy diet, following the food guide pyramid.
  • Follow sports safety guidelines for children, adolescents, and adults.
  • Warm up before sports and planned exercise.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Establish an ergonomic workstation and use good body mechanics.
  • Wear seat belts in all moving vehicles.
  • Avoid alcohol or drugs when driving, operating machinery, exercising, or playing sports.

Diagnosed

How is the injury recognized?

The healthcare professional will do a medical history and physical examination, checking for the slackness that will occur in a sprained joint.
An MRI evaluation may be helpful. An X-ray may be ordered to check for bone fractures.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the injury?

Apply the RICE technique: Rest, Ice, Compression and Immobilization, and Elevation.
  • Rest means to restrict movement and weight-bearing in the injured area. A splint can be used if necessary.
  • Ice refers to the application of an ice pack or cold compress to the affected area.
  • Compression involves placing a bandage lightly around the injured area to decrease swelling. Immobilization means to avoid unnecessary activity of the affected area, particularly weight-bearing.
  • Elevation means to keep the injured area above the heart if possible.
Medications that reduce pain and inflammation, such as aspirin or ibuprofen (i.e., Advil, Motrin), may be taken. Aspirin should never be given to children 18 years of age or younger, since it is associated with a disorder known as Reye syndrome.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Pain medications and anti-inflammatory medications may cause stomach upset or allergic reaction.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the injury?

Most sprain injuries take from 4 to 6 weeks to heal. It is important to allow these areas to heal fully and properly before going back to usual activities. It is also important that the sprained area be protected for several months after the injury, since there will be some weakness.
Problems may worsen if the injured area is not protected or if activity is resumed too soon after the injury. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.

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