Identifying a sprain

Typically, a sprain refers to an injured ligament. Ligaments are bands of connective tissue in our body that connect from bone to bone, the purpose of which is to provide structure and stability around the joints within our body. So, the presence of a ligament is what can stop our joints moving too far in one direction or from being too loose. Those who are described as being ‘double jointed’ often have lax ligaments which allow their joints to have more movement than most people.

This does not mean that if you are double jointed that you are immune to sprains, however. Our ligaments are designed to absorb some of the stresses of movement and can therefore stretch up to a point, however a ligament which is overstretched can tear or become permanently lax. A ligament injury can occur if excessive force is put through it when a joint is forced to move beyond its normal range.

We typically categorise sprains / ligament injuries in 1 of 3 grades:

Grade 1 – Stretching or twisting of the ligament with no tear

Grade 2- Partial tear of the ligament with some mild to moderate joint instability

Grade 3 – Full tear of the ligament with instability in the joint

Wrist and ankle sprains are both common examples of this type of injury. An ankle sprain is typically caused by a slip or fall which causes the sole of the foot to point inwards therefore placing an increased amount of stress on the outside of the ankle. There are some smaller more susceptible ligaments in this area of the ankle and foot which your Physiotherapist will likely be able to identify if they have been injured.

An ankle sprain may have some swelling, feeling tender and warm to the touch with some pain when putting weight through it. Typically speaking, RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) is best in the early stages of an ankle sprain with weight bearing encouraged as early as pain allows. In the cases of a complete ligament tear then further investigations and a form of protective bracing may also be required. Following this, it is important to undertake progressive rehabilitation to return full movement and strength to the ankle.

Your Physiotherapist can assist in guiding you through all of these stages and will also be particularly aware of the need to return the ankle to full strength with improved balance in order to reduce the risk of recurrent injury.

Wrist sprains can occur on either the thumb or the little finger side and are most commonly associated with a fall on an outstretched hand. When this occurs a huge amount of force is transmitted from the ground into the arm which can cause the ligament to sprain, resulting in swelling, redness, pain and tenderness to touch. Again, similar to an ankle sprain, the RICE method is typically advocated in the early stages followed by light exercises in order to rehabilitate the wrist.

Sprains are very common injuries and often, with the right care and attention, full recoveries are likely, so there is no real reason to worry. It is always best to get your Physiotherapists to assess any issues as they should be able to assist you in finding the cause of your injury and help alleviate some of the pain, whilst guiding you through a rehabilitation process.

If you have any questions about a similar injury, why not get in contact with our experts using our FREE Ask A Physio tool. A member of our team will get back to you as soon and they can.