Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that link bones together and help to hold joints in position. Ligaments allow normal movement to occur at joints but prevent excessive movement that could make the joint unstable. Sprains can occur when a ligament is suddenly stretched or torn. Sprains are most common in ankles, knees and wrists.
What are the signs and symptoms of sprains?
- Not being able to move or use the joint.
Sometimes people feel a pop or tear when the injury happens. A sprain can be mild, moderate, or severe. A minor sprain is when a ligament is stretched or partially torn. In severe sprains the ligament is completely torn. Sometimes the end of the bone to which a ligament is attached can crack or be pulled off, this is called an avulsion fracture.
The first treatment for a sprain can be remembered using the acronym RICE
Rest: The sprain should be rested. No additional force should be applied on site of the sprain. If, for example, the sprain were an ankle sprain, then walking should be kept to a minimum.
Ice: Ice should be applied immediately to the sprain to minimise swelling and ease pain. It can be applied for 20-30 minutes at a time, 3-4 times a day. Ice can be combined with a wrapping to minimise swelling and provide support.
Compression: Dressings, bandages, or wraps should be used to help compress the area to prevent swelling and provide support.
Elevation: Keeping the sprained joint elevated above heart level will also help to minimise swelling.
Top tips for preventing ligament sprains
- Don't exercise if you are tired - your muscles will be tired too and offer less support to your joints. Injuries can occur as a result of being tired from playing sport or doing strenuous activity
- Warm up and stretch before playing a sport
- Wear supportive shoes that fit correctly.
A Physiotherapist can give you specific advice and treatment such as deep friction massage and exercises to maintain movement and strengthen the affected area. They will also provide a thorough assessment and determine factors that may have made you more susceptible to a ligament sprain. It is important to have a thorough assessment and rehabilitation programme to help prevent the problem occurring again.