Treating a Sprain

Sprains happen very commonly during everyday activities such as running, walking and especially falling. Sometimes when a limb is bent, twisted or hyperextended in a strange way then damage occurs to the localized ligaments. This damage usually results in sprains causing pain and inflammation in the area.

What Are Ligaments?

Between every joint there are soft tissues called ligaments. Ligaments are composed of a substance called collagen that is made from protein. These are very flexible and strong connective tissues that join the bones together. Other common connective tissues include tendons (muscle-to-bone connectors) and fasciae (muscle-to-muscle connectors).

Symptoms of a Sprain

There are a few very noticeable features of a sprained joint. A few of these symptoms include
– Swelling
– Pain
– Bruising and
– Immobility.
Swelling begins immediately after the sprain has happened. Inflammation of the area can occur within minutes. Pain can be moderate to severe. In some cases the pain is so intolerable that it causes immobility. Bruising may not occur immediately and may take up to 24-hours to appear.

If the symptoms become so unbearable, then these could be signs of broken or shattered fragments of bone irritating the localized area. These symptoms could include numbness in the area or sharp pains that shoot through the body only during particular maneuvers. Medical attention should be sought after immediately in cases such as these. However, in most cases it is not recommended for one to seek urgent medical care (such as going to the emergency room) since the handling of a sprain is easy to perform at home.

Following a Sprain

After seeking medical attention from a sprain (if applicable), one should continue with the proper post-exam care. There are just a few simple steps necessary to recover the best:
– Protect
– Rest
– Ice
– Compress
– Elevate
This is usually an extension to the commonly administered RICE method. This method is referred to generally as PRICE.


It is usually during a game, athletic event or a common get-together where an injury normally takes place. There are usually other people playing or interacting in the general activity. When you or another person is injured, halt the game or activity as soon as possible — this will make sure that no one hurts the player accidentally any further.

Some common occurrences of sprains happen when a step is taken and the ankle, knee or other part is twisted in an overexerted fashion. Sometimes a person can take a step incorrectly, thus rolling and spraining his/her ankle.


Resting is an integral part of recovery for any type of injury. Resting allows the torn ligaments to heal properly. Most people are under the impression that resting wastes time and that it does not promote healing; however, this could not be farther from the truth. There are two methods of resting for an injured ligament: regular resting and active resting.

Regular resting promotes healing by allowing the torn ligaments or injured parts to heal correctly. Imagine having a broken femur and not resting while the bones were still dislocated. The broken parts of the bone could potentially shatter and worsen healing. These jagged fragments, both large and small, could aggravate the area by severing local veins, arteries and even muscles.

The same principle applies to ligaments as it does to bones. If an injured ligament is constantly working, then it can rip and tear more causing only more severe pain and injury. Give it ample time to heal and only do light tasks.

Active Rest

For those of you who are quite restless and do want to get out there and start playing again, there is one thing to note — do not use your injured area. If you have injured a wrist, fingers or maybe sprained an elbow, it could be possible to not use part of or the entire arm. However, if a knee or ankle is sprained and the exercise requires harder running routines, then it is best to stay on the sidelines for a while. Walking occasionally for a sprained ankle or knee is beneficial to some degree, but if the pain becomes too dramatic then you should stop the activity.

Strength and Muscle Decrease During Rest

There are two things to note when resting or actively resting.
1) Muscular volume or size will not noticeably decrease within the time needed to recuperate.
2) Changes in metabolism (digestion and energy production/burn-off) are unlikely to decrease within this period as well.
According to studies, the volume of obtained muscle received while working out at a steady rate will not show a likely decrease within the first 30 days. It is also shown that changes in one’s metabolic rate do not degrade either within up to a range of 14 days! Muscle strength did not decrease any after thirty days and nerve activation remained the same as well. The only evidenced decrease was in the measurement of the tendon and CSA (cross-sectional area) of the muscles tested. The tendon and CSA decreased to that of the before workout status.

This means the overall width at the largest (lateral to the muscle fibers) point of the muscle decreased in size, but maintained its strength. Likewise, the ability to activate the muscle both quickly and efficiently remained intact with no signs of degrades.

Applying Ice to the Injured Area

Icing an injured sprain or strain is usually the most effective if done within the first 48 hours. If two days pass without icing the injury, then the effects of ice reduce quite dramatically. Therefore, it is best to ice the area immediately heeding to some small precautions.

Icing reduces inflammation and provides you with a numbing sensation to help ease the pain. When you start applying ice to an area, there are a few provisions to help it heal better.
1) Try to massage the area with the ice/ice pack occasionally.
2) Ice the area intermittently within the first 48 hours of sprain.
3) Do not ice the area for more than 20 minutes at a time.
If the area has ice applied to it for a prolonged period of more than 20 minutes, there could be a chance of frostbite or damage to internal nerves. Once the full length of 15 to 20 minutes has been reached then give the area a rest from icing for at least an hour.

Further Notes: A swollen area is a sign of the body’s attempt to repair the affected area. However, sometimes the body sends a vast amount of blood and white blood cells to the area too quickly. In swollen areas, the cells tend to congregate heavily thus decreasing the flow of fresh new antibodies to help the repair process. This swelling is the reason for icing the region — never heat it. Heating an area can ultimately cause more swelling and constriction thus, triggering more pain and less healing.

Compressing the Area

Areas that are swelling need to be controlled and that is where compression comes in handy. Applying a compression medium to the area allows for the veins, nerves and other tissues to be well compacted, yet not too restricted as to cause circulation cutoff. Trainer’s tape, elastic bandages, ACE wraps and sometimes using a piece of clothing to wrap around the region can help a lot. It is recommended to watch the extremities of the area (such as fingertips, toes, etc.) for any signs of purpling or decreased blood circulation. If you feel any numbness, then the binding may be too tight. At night before going to bed, release the pressure from your wrap to prevent any loss of circulation in your sleep.

In areas such as the ankle or wrist, where there is a designated compressing tool available (e.g., boot, splint), it might be best to buy a specially-made movement guard. Boots, splints and braces exist for a wide variety of parts including, but not limited to
– Ankle
– Shoulder
– Elbow
– Knee
– Thumb
– Neck

Lift the Zone

Swelling is a big aspect in preventing the area from healing. Blood becomes over-packed in a general area, causing a decrease in blood flow. Elevation is helpful for the reason that the blood cells will not collect in the general sprain area. Lifting the strained part at or above heart level lets the blood flow freely back to the heart, whereas standing the heart works harder to return blood against gravity.

The Original R.I.C.E. Method

There is also an alternative for the P.R.I.C.E. method that excludes the “protection” aspect. The following key points are the same
– Rest
– Ice
– Compress and
– Elevate.
This is the most common method prescribed by doctors, medical professionals, nurses and fitness coaches.

The M.I.C.E. Method

This particular method simply replaces the “rest” stage with a lesser-known “motion” stage. This is a particular routine where motion is highly encouraged. According to this procedure, once an area becomes limber enough to continue moving it without harmful effects, then the motion of the desired area should be maintained. However, as seen in the P.R.I.C.E. method, having an “active rest” can increase mobility to an area indirectly and safely, limbering the damage zone.

Pain Tolerance

It is extremely crucial that you pay attention to the level of pain you will be enduring if you proceed with low-impact workouts. The active rest method does not mean to workout in conditions where you will hurt yourself. Resting actively is about limbering up the impacted area and increasing blood flow to the injured zone (while sustaining proper compression on the region). This blood flow will allow antibodies to flow into and out of the area freely. Exercise will also increase the metabolic rate necessary to give the area proper circulatory function.

Do not hurt yourself further. It is of absolute importance to keep the hurt area away from strenuous activity. Hard activity can impact the area causing more severe impairment and much more pain. Know your pain tolerance. If the area around the section begins to be affected, then halt any activity that uses this entire limb/joint/zone — there is no need in hurting yourself further.


Overall, the best advice to follow (which is similar in all cases) is to ice, compress and elevate the area. Though it is recommended to both rest and move the affected joint, it is critical to remember these three steps. Icing, compressing and elevating the area are the focal point of all the most up-to-date studies. Though it may take some time to heal a sprain, do not get restless. Remember, you can only hurt yourself worse if you injure the spot again.


HealthStatus has been operating since 1998 providing the best interactive health tools on the Internet, millions of visitors have used our health risk assessment, body fat and calories burned calculators. The HealthStatus editorial team has continued that commitment to excellence by providing our visitors with easy to understand high quality health content for many years.

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Written by HealthStatus
Medical Writer & Editor

HealthStatus has been operating since 1998 providing the best interactive health tools on the Internet, millions of visitors have used our health risk assessment, body fat and calories burned calculators. The HealthStatus editorial team has continued that commitment to excellence by providing our visitors with easy to understand high quality health content for many years.

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