What Is A Sprain?

ankle sprain photo

A sprain is a stretch and/or tear of a ligament (a band of fibrous tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint).

One or more ligaments can be injured at the same time. The severity of the injury will depend on the extent of injury (whether a tear is partial or complete) and the number of ligaments involved. Sprains are classified as Grade I, Grade II, or Grade III.

grades of sprain

What Causes a Sprain?

A sprain can result from a fall, a sudden twist, or a blow to the body that forces a joint out of its normal position and stretches or tears the ligament supporting that joint. Typically, sprains occur when people fall and land on an outstretched arm, slide into a baseball base, land on the side of their foot, or twist a knee with the foot planted firmly on the ground.

Where Do Sprains Usually Occur?

Although sprains can occur in both the upper and lower parts of the body, the most common site is the ankle.

More than 25,000 individuals sprain an ankle each day in the United States.

ankle lig

The ankle joint is supported by several lateral (outside) ligaments and medial (inside) ligaments. Most ankle sprains happen when the foot turns inward as a person runs, turns, falls, or lands on the ankle after a jump. This type of sprain is called an inversion injury.

knee lig


The knee is another common site for a sprain. A blow to the knee or a fall is often the cause; sudden twisting can also result in a sprain.  The collateral ligaments are damaged.


Sprains frequently occur at the wrist, typically when people fall and land on an outstretched hand.



A sprain to the thumb is common in skiing and other sports. This injury often occurs when a ligament near the base of the thumb (the ulnar collateral ligament of the metacarpophalangeal joint) is torn.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Sprain?

  • pain
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • instability
  • loss of the ability to move and use the joint (called functional ability).

These signs and symptoms can vary in intensity, depending on the severity of the sprain. Sometimes people feel a pop or tear when the injury happens.

Doctors closely observe an injured site and ask questions to obtain information to diagnose the severity of a sprain.

Sprains: Grade I, Grade II, and Grade III 

Grade I

A mild sprain is caused by overstretching or slight tearing of the ligaments with no joint instability. A person with a mild sprain usually experiences minimal pain, swelling, and little or no loss of functional ability. Bruising is absent or slight, and the person is usually able to put weight on the affected joint.


Grade II

A moderate sprain is caused by further, but still incomplete, tearing of the ligament and is characterized by bruising, moderate pain, and swelling. A person with a moderate sprain usually has more difficulty putting weight on the affected joint and experiences some loss of function. An x ray may be needed to help the health care provider determine if a fracture is causing the pain and swelling. Magnetic resonance imaging is occasionally used to help differentiate between a significant partial injury and a complete tear in a ligament, or can be recommended to rule out other injuries.

Grade III

A severe sprain completely tear or rupture a ligament. Pain, swelling, and bruising are usually severe, and the patient is unable to put weight on the joint. An x ray is usually taken to rule out a broken bone. When diagnosing any sprain, the health care provider will ask the patient to explain how the injury happened. He or she will examine the affected area and check its stability and its ability to move and bear weight.

When to See a Health Care Provider for a Sprain

  • You have severe pain and cannot put any weight on the injured joint
  • The injured area looks crooked or has lumps and bumps (other than swelling) that you do not see on the uninjured joint
  • You cannot move the injured joint
  • You cannot walk more than four steps without significant pain
  • Your limb buckles or gives way when you try to use the joint
  • You have numbness in any part of the injured area
  • You see redness or red streaks spreading out from the injury
  • You injure an area that has been injured several times before
  • You have pain, swelling, or redness over a bony part of your foot
  • You are in doubt about the seriousness of the injury or how to care for it

Massage Therapy For Sprains

Massage can be done for Grade I and Grade II sprains, once the swelling has gone down. There is a three day waiting period post injury, to give the body time to rest and recover before therapy begins.  Muscles and tissue around the injury site can be massaged to reduce tension and pain, encourage circulation and restore proper function. Swelling can be reduced with a technique called Manual Lymphatic Drainage.

Home Care

Follow the RICE Protocol:

  • Rest the injured area
  • Ice packs can be applied for 15 minutes at a time to reduce swelling and encourage the healing process
  • Compress the area to help control the swelling, wrap with an ace bandage, not too tight, not too loose
  • Elevate the area; higher than your heart if possible; ex., wrist on a pillow, ankle or knee on a recliner, etc.

Sprains can take a couple weeks to a few months to heal, depending on the severity of the injury.

Regular massage definitely helps the healing process.

Call Woodstown Massage Boutique to learn more about it, 856-769-1373.


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Bill Martin

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