Ligaments are the strong tissues found around joints and part of their purpose is to connect the bones together, in addition to giving support to the joints. Ligaments can be overstretched as a result of a sudden pull, which can partly tear some the fibres that make up the ligament. In some cases, a ligament can totally tear, which is termed as a rupture. Any time a ligament is injured, it is called a sprain. When a ligament is strained, it can cause inflammation and even bleeding (which will appear as a bruise) and moving the affected joint can be painful. Treating a sprain is aimed towards keeping the inflammation and pain down to a minimum so that the affected joint can be used again as quickly as possible.

Treatment in the First 48 Hours

Treating sprain just after the injury is as easy as remembering to perform RICE treatment – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevate. Rest the affected joint for the first forty-eight hours and apply ice as soon as possible for the first twenty minutes. An ice pack can be a bag of crushed ice, ice cubes in a plastic bag, or even a bag of frozen peas, which works very well because it moulds to the body and can be refrozen and used again. Always wrap the ice pack with a towel to avoid injuring the skin. Compression will not only help control the swelling but will also help the joint rest. Wrap the injured joint with an elastic bandage, but not so tight so as to be uncomfortable to ensure that the blood flow isn’t cut off. Re-wrap the joint every four hours. Finally, elevating the joint will also help keep the swelling down. When lying down, elevate the joint above heart level with the use of pillows.

Treatment After 48 Hours

After forty-eight hours have passed, patients should be able to slowly start replacing rest with movement. While they shouldn’t do anything that will cause a great deal of pain, getting the joint moving again at this point will help along the recovery process. The aim is to prevent the joint from becoming stiff, so just a few gentle exercises can help during the day. Most compression bandages should come off after forty-eight hours, as they will limit the amount of movement and the joint should be increasing movement at this time. Heat and massage can be helpful at this point. They shouldn’t be done within forty-eight hours because they have the opposite effect as ice – they increase circulation, which can make the inflammation worse in the beginning. Heat can be applied with a hot water bottle, a warm bath, or a hot cloth. Physiotherapy may be needed for more severe strains when symptoms are still present after an appropriate amount of time.

When to see a Doctor

If the pain is severe, in other words, bad enough that you cannot walk, the bruising is severe, there is a great deal of tenderness over a bone, or you suspect that you have broken a bone or ruptured a ligament, it is advised to seek medical attention immediately. Also, most sprains will improve within a few days, so if the pain and symptoms have not decreased within a week, it is a good idea to seek the advice of a doctor.