When you sprain a joint, it is the ligament that receives injury from getting excessively stretched. The ligaments in our bodies are strong, elastic-like bands joined to the bones, that keep one's joints in place. They perform the function of stabilizing the joints, and thus prevent too much movement. When the joint is put in such a position that the ligament is extended beyond its normal range of motion, then it gets sprained. Depending on the severity of the injury, the ligament may have small tears in it or could even be entirely torn apart. The joints of our body, most likely to get sprained, are those of the ankle or knee. A sprain can occur just from the joint rolling, twisting, or turning at an awkward angle.
Sprains cause pain, swelling, and bruising of the injured joint. If the injury is mild, one may only experience pain during movement. However, a serious condition will make it difficult or impossible to move the given joint, and it may even become unstable. Some may feel or hear a "pop" when they get injured.
Treatment for a sprain depends on the severity of the injury. If the injury is mild, attempt the following treatment options:
- Protect: It is very important to ensure that the injured joint is not exposed to any further strain that will surely aggravate the condition. Avoid using the joint in order to prevent excessive pressure.
- Rest: The sprained joint must be given as much rest as possible. However, one is not advised against all activity, for the rest of the muscles of your body should not get deconditioned. You can continue to do arm exercises or even leg exercises, provided you use only the uninjured leg. An example of this is, exercising one leg on an exercise cycle.
- Ice: Cold therapy works well to help control and reduce swelling. As soon as possible, after the injury, hold an ice pack against the injured area for about 15 to 20 minutes at a time. However, be careful not to use it for longer as this can result in tissue damage. You could use a bag of frozen vegetables as an ice pack or a slush bath. Ice must not be applied directly to the skin.
- Compress: Apply compression to the injured joint to keep the swelling from increasing. You could use an elastic bandage, but make sure not to wrap the joint so tight that the blood circulation is cut off. When you wrap the injured joint, start at the end farthest from your heart (for example, for the ankle, start wrapping near the toes). If you find the pain increasing, numbness setting in, or the surrounding areas swelling up, then loosen the wrap.
- Elevate: Another way to reduce swelling is by keeping the injured joint above the level of your heart. So, if you have an ankle sprain, lie on the bed, and prop your foot up on the pillows. This enables the excess fluid to drain away, thus bringing down the swelling.
You could supplement these efforts with over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.) and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) if required. However, if the ligament is torn, these steps will not help, and you may need emergency medical assistance. Severe pain, inability to use the joint, instability, fever, and no improvement within two days, point towards a ligament tear, in which case, you should consult a doctor or preferably an orthopedic.