Diagnosis

During the physical exam, your doctor will check for swelling and points of tenderness in your affected limb. The location and intensity of your pain can help determine the extent and nature of the damage. Your doctor might also move your joints and limbs into a variety of positions, to help pinpoint which ligament, tendon or muscle has been injured.

X-rays can help rule out a fracture or other bone injury as the source of the problem. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) also may be used to help diagnose the extent of the injury.

Treatment

Treating sprains and strains depends on the joint involved and the severity of the injury.

Medications

For mild sprains and strains, your doctor likely will recommend basic self-care measures and an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).

Therapy

In cases of a mild or moderate sprain or strain, you should apply ice to the area as soon as possible to minimize swelling. In cases of severe sprain or strain, your doctor may immobilize the area with a brace or splint.

Surgery

In some cases, such as in the case of a torn ligament or ruptured muscle, surgery may be considered.

Clinical trials

Explore Mayo Clinic studies testing new treatments, interventions and tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage this disease.

Lifestyle and home remedies

For immediate self-care of a sprain or strain, try the R.I.C.E. approach — rest, ice, compression, elevation. In most cases beyond a minor strain or sprain, you'll want your doctor and physical therapist to help you with this process:

  • Rest. Avoid activities that cause pain, swelling or discomfort. But don't avoid all physical activity. Instead, give yourself relative rest. With an ankle sprain, you can usually still exercise other muscles to prevent deconditioning. For example, you could use an exercise bicycle, working both your arms and the uninjured leg while resting the injured ankle on a footrest peg. That way you still exercise three limbs and keep up your cardiovascular conditioning.
  • Ice. Even if you're seeking medical help, ice the area immediately. Use an ice pack or slush bath of ice and water for 15 to 20 minutes each time and repeat every two to three hours while you're awake for the first few days following the injury. Cold reduces pain, swelling and inflammation in injured muscles, joints and connective tissues. It also may slow bleeding if a tear has occurred. If the iced area turns white, stop treatment immediately. This could indicate frostbite. If you have vascular disease, diabetes or decreased sensation, talk with your doctor before applying ice.
  • Compression. To help stop swelling, compress the area with an elastic bandage until the swelling stops. Don't wrap it too tightly or you may hinder circulation. Begin wrapping at the end farthest from your heart. Loosen the wrap if the pain increases, the area becomes numb or swelling is occurring below the wrapped area.
  • Elevation. To reduce swelling, elevate the injured area above the level of your heart, especially at night, which allows gravity to help reduce swelling.

Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) also can be helpful.

After the first two days, gently begin to use the injured area. You should see a gradual, progressive improvement in the joint's ability to support your weight or your ability to move without pain. Sprains can take days to months to recover. A physical therapist can help you to maximize stability and strength of the injured joint or limb.

Preparing for your appointment

While you may initially consult your family physician, he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in sports medicine or orthopedic surgery.

What you can do

You may want to write a list that includes:

  • Detailed descriptions of your symptoms
  • Information about medical problems you've had
  • Information about the medical problems of your parents or siblings
  • All the medications and dietary supplements you take
  • Questions you want to ask the doctor

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor may ask some of the following questions:

  • How exactly were you moving when the injury occurred?
  • Did you hear or feel a pop or snap?
  • When did it happen?
  • What types of home treatments have you tried?
  • Have you ever injured this part of your body before?
  • If so, how did that injury occur?
Oct. 04, 2017
References
  1. Questions and answers about sprains and strains. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Sprains_Strains/default.asp. Accessed July 23, 2014.
  2. Marx JA, et al. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2014. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed July 30, 2014.
  3. Sprains and strains: What's the difference? American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00111. Accessed July 23, 2014.
  4. Safran MR, et al. Instructions for Sports Medicine Patients. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2012. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed July 30, 2014.
  5. Maughan KL. Ankle sprain. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed June 22, 2017.