Hampton Roads Orthopaedics Spine & Sports Medicine physicians treat many sprained joints. Not all sprains, however, need immediate medical intervention. Knowing what a sprain is and how to begin caring for the injury at home is the first step in getting back to the things you love to do.
A sprain involves excessive stretching or a tearing of a ligament, which connects bones and cartilage. There are varying degrees of sprains: mild, moderate, and severe. Symptoms of a sprain include pain, bruising, swelling, and limited movement of the joint. You may or may not hear a “pop” at the time of your injury.
If you suspect that you have sprained a joint, use the acronym RICE – rest, ice, compression and elevation– to help with symptoms:
- Rest. Avoid physical activity that causes pain or increased swelling. You may need to use crutches if needed.
- Ice.Submerge the affected joint into an ice bath or use an ice pack for 20-30 minutes every 2-3 hours for 48 hours.
- Compression.Use an elastic bandage to help compress the joint and stop swelling. Be sure not to wrap the bandage too tight as this will cut off circulation. If pain and swelling increase or the area below the bandage become numb the bandage needs loosened.
- Elevation. Elevate the injured joint above the level of your heart to help with swelling. To elevate above the heart, lie flat with several pillows or a wedge under the affected joint.
In addition to RICE, you may also use over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen to help with pain and swelling or acetaminophen to help with pain.
If you are experiencing pain directly over the bone, cannot bear any weight, cannot move the joint, or have numbness in or below the injured area you need to seek medical care. Mild sprains can be cared for at home. Moderate to severe sprains may require immobilization, x-rays, and possibly even surgery. It is important for your medical provider to rule out any fractures that may have occurred. Healing time for a sprain can vary from several days to several months.
If your sprained joint isn’t resolving by following the RICE method, contact Hampton Roads Orthopaedics Spine & Sports Medicinefor an appointment with one of our providers. Our team is ready to get you back on your feet!