A sprain is the stretching or rupturing of a ligament resulting in damage to the connective tissue. Ligaments are responsible for holding joints together and a severe sprain can prevent the ligament from properly controlling the joint. Because of this, the first step in the treatment of a sprain is to take any weight off of the joint. The most common place for sprains to occur is the ankle, but sprains also frequently occur in the knees or wrists. There are two different parts to treating a sprain, the first is the short term first aid, and the second part of treatment is the long term care given after the initial few hours.
Below are the immediate steps involved with first aid of a sprain. They are easy to remember with the PRICE acronym.
P – Protect – The first and most important thing to do in the treatment of a sprain is to get weight off of the joint. This involves not only sitting or lying down in the case of a sprained ankle or knee, but also supporting the foot once you are laying down. Just the weight of your foot can further damage the ligaments. Use a splint or pillow for support
R – Rest – Obviously you do not want to use the joint until healing of the sprain can occur.
I – Ice – Ice the sprained joint for 15 minutes, then remove the ice. Reapply again in a few hours for 15 minutes. This should be repeated as often as possible, but allow at least a few hours between applications and never ice for more than 15 minutes.
C – Compress – wrap the joint tightly, making sure to go a good distance above and below the sprain in order to support some weight. After wrapping tightly, make sure to check circulation below the wrap. This is easily done by lightly pinching a finger or toe. The finger or toe should briefly turn white, then quickly return to normal color. If the finger or toe stays white, the wrap is too tight and cutting off circulation.
E – Elevate – For as much as possible within the first few days, keep the sprain elevated above the level of the heart.
Finally, Ibuprofen can be given. Along with increased hydration, this will allow the body to respond rapidly to the damage caused by the sprain.
For long term care of a sprain, the most important thing is to maintain mobility and strength under very controlled circumstances.
1. After swelling and pain have gone away, begin to test the limits of mobility while not allowing the joint to support weight. For ankles, this can be done by making large circles with your foot while your foot rests on a pillow. If there is pain, you are not ready to move further into your recovery yet.
2. Once you have pain-free mobility, it is time to work on strengthening the joint. This is best done with a combination of crutches and wraps. Over time, you want to gradually increase the amount of weight you put on the sprained joint. As with mobility, be quick to backtrack when pain is experienced. When dealing with joints and ligaments.. the phrase ‘ more pain, more gain’ does not apply.
3. Once full mobility and strength has been recovered, focus more of your workout energy into strengthening that joint. In many cases, the sprain occurred because the ligament was weak to begin with.
4. Proper nutrition. There are many vitamins and minerals that are necessary for proper ligament strength. If you partake in an activity that gives you an increased chance of sprains, like soccer or basketball, make sure you are taking a multivitamin and eating well balanced meals.