A sprain occurs when one or more ligaments in a joint are injured. Ligaments are the strong connective fibres holding the bones in a joint together. This damage takes the form of over-stretching or, if more severe, tearing of small fibres in the ligament. In severe injuries, ligaments can be completely ruptured.
Sprains can occur in any joint in the body but the most common joints affected include the ankle, knee and wrist. This is because these joints are very flexible and a lot of stress or weight is borne by them.
A sprain occurs when you damage the ligaments or tendons in a joint, while a strain is when you damage muscle. Often these injuries occur simultaneously, particularly in the wrist, knee and ankle, as the muscle leads into the tendons and ligaments. This is why the terms are often used together.
A sprain is caused when the ligaments experience too high a stress or stress in the wrong direction. Extra force causes the joint to bend more than it is designed to. This extra movement stretches the ligaments to and beyond their limit, causing damage by either over-stretching or tearing the internal structure of the ligaments.
Sprains are a common occurrence and can happen to anyone. However, some people are more prone to the injury than others:
- Some people have weakness in their muscles, ligaments or tendons which surround the joint and keep it together
- Some forms of footwear can make you more prone to ankle or knee sprains. For example, if you regularly wear high heeled shoes, particularly on stony or uneven ground, you are likely to sprain a joint at some point
- People who play a lot of sport are quite likely to develop a range of injuries, including sprains. This is because sports push the joints to their limits of stress, movement and flexibility. However, the more sport you play, the stronger your joints become…
The symptoms you experience will depend on the severity of your injury. Typical symptoms of sprains in any part of the body are:
- Pain, usually on one side of the joint more than the other
- Limitation or restriction of movement in the joint
Severe swelling, or abnormal movement of the joint together with deformity of the injured area may indicate that the injury is severe, and not merely a sprain. If you notice these symptoms or if you have severe uncontrolled pain, seek medical help immediately.
The exact treatment for a sprain depends on how you have injured yourself and the severity of the injury. Generally speaking however, there are certain measures you should take immediately following the injury. These measures can be summarised by the PRICE acronym, and you should also protect yourself against further HARM.
In many cases, the sprain can be treated at home, by keeping pressure and ice on the injury at regular intervals, and gradually building up the load on the joint. Many people find that arnica helps with these types of injuries. This herb can be found in licensed herbal products such as Atrogel Arnica Gel.
In more severe cases, medical attention, particularly physiotherapy, may be necessary to treat the injury, and to give it the best chance of recovery.