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Our Health Information Database is provided by A.D.A.M. the leading provider of electronic and printed information for professionals and consumers in healthcare and industry. It provides authoritative, reliable content written and reviewed by an editorial board who represent a variety of specialty areas. This board reviews and evaluates all healthcare information to ensure it is accurate, reliable, and can be used with complete confidence. And now you have access to the same authoritative, trusted clinical information relied upon by health professionals around the world.
Sprains

Definition

A sprain is an injury to the ligaments around a joint. Ligaments are strong, flexible fibers that hold bones together. When a ligament is stretched too far or tears, the joint will become painful and swell.

Alternative Names

Joint sprain

Considerations

Causes

Sprains are caused when a joint is forced to move into an unnatural position. For example, "twisting" one's ankle causes a sprain to the ligaments around the ankle.

Symptoms

First Aid

  1. Apply ice immediately to help reduce swelling. Wrap the ice in cloth -- DO NOT place ice directly on the skin.
  2. Try NOT to move the affected area. To help you do this, bandage the affected area firmly, but not tightly. ACE bandages work well. Use a splint if necessary.
  3. Keep the swollen joint elevated above the level of the heart, even while sleeping.
  4. Rest the affected joint for several days.

Aspirin, ibuprofen, or other pain relievers can help. DO NOT give aspirin to children.

Keep pressure off the injured area until the pain subsides (usually 7-10 days for mild sprains and 3-5 weeks for severe sprains). You may require crutches when walking. Rehabilitation to regain the motion and strength of the joint should begin within one week.

Do Not

Call immediately for emergency medical assistance if

Go to the hospital right away or call 911 if:

  • You suspect a broken bone
  • The joint appears to be deformed
  • You have a serious injury or the pain is severe
  • There is an audible popping sound and immediate difficulty using the joint

Call your doctor if:

  • Swelling does not go down within 2 days
  • You have symptoms of infection -- the area becomes redder, more painful, or warm, or you have a fever over 100°F
  • The pain does not go away after several weeks

Prevention

  • Wear protective footwear for activities that place stress on your ankle and other joints.
  • Make sure that shoes fit your feet properly.
  • Avoid high-heeled shoes.
  • Always warm-up and stretch prior to exercise and sports.
  • Avoid sports and activities for which you are not conditioned.

References

Mercier LR. Sports medicine. In: Mercier LR, ed. Practical Orthopedics. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 15.

Krabak BJ, Baima J. Ankle sprain. In: Frontera, WR, Silver JK, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 75.

Geiderman JM. General principles of orthopedic injuries. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. St Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2006:chap 46.

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      Review Date: 5/2/2009

      Review By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2010 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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