Silly sprains: What is a sprain and how you should handle it

‘I went for a run yesterday. Now, my ankle hurts. How do I know if it is a sprain?’

If you exercise or play sports often, you might want to know the answer to this question. If there is excessive force on any joint in your body, one or more ligament (tissue around the joint that connects bones) may get stretched, twisted or torn leading to a sprain. Any strenuous physical activities and incidents such as falling off a high platform/sidewalk may also cause sprains.

How will you know if it is a sprain? Look for these symptoms:

  • You may experience pain around the affected joint
  • Swelling, bruising or tenderness in the affected part
  • Inability to use or move the injured body part normally

Knees, ankles, wrists and thumbs are common locations where sprains may occur.

You can avoid sprains while continuing with your exercise regime and sports activities. Keep in mind these simple measures:

  • Warm up properly before beginning exercise or any strenuous physical activity.
  • It is equally important to stretch or warm down after exercising.
  • Wear the appropriate kind of shoe for a particular activity

The do’s and don'ts while handling sprains – plan of action for the first 48-72 hours after the sprain

Do’s – Manage using PRICE (Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation)

  • It is important to PROTECT the injured body part from any further injury.
  • REST the injured joint or muscle for 48-72 hours after the injury. For an ankle, knee or leg injury, consider the use of crutches or a cane.
  • Using ICE on the injury can help limit the pain and swelling. An ice pack should be applied to the injury as soon as possible, for 5-20 minutes at a time and every 2-3 hours. Avoid exposing the skin directly to ice by wrapping the ice pack in a towel.
  • To limit swelling of the affected part, COMPRESS (squeeze) the injury using a bandage. The bandage should not be uncomfortable or tight and should be removed before going to bed.
  • Keep the injured part ELEVATED. This also helps reduce swelling of the affected part. In case of ankle and knee sprains, you can keep your foot up on a chair. For hand or wrist sprains, you can keep the injured part elevated on a pillow.

Don’ts – Prevent HARM (Heat, alcohol, running and massage)

  • Don’t apply HEAT to the injured part while the swelling persists. Hot baths, saunas and heat packs should be avoided.
  • Avoid ALCOHOL consumption. Drinks containing alcohol can contribute to increase in swelling and reduce healing.
  • Keep away from RUNning or other activities that may worsen the injury.
  • Avoid MASSAGES to the affected area as it may increase swelling.

Consult a doctor if the symptoms worsen or if you are not sure about the extent of the injury.