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.

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

For immediate self-care of a sprain, try the R.I.C.E. approach — rest, ice, compression, elevation:

  • Rest. Avoid activities that cause pain, swelling or discomfort. But don't avoid all physical activity.
  • 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 after the injury.
  • 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. 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. Recovery from sprains can take days to months.

A physical therapist can help you to maximize stability and strength of the injured joint or limb. Your doctor may suggest that you immobilize the area with a brace or splint. For some injuries, such as a torn ligament, 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.

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?
Dec. 22, 2018
References
  1. Sprains and strains. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/sprains-and-strains/advanced. Accessed April 27, 2018.
  2. Walls RM, et al., eds. General principles of orthopedic injuries. In: Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2018. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 27, 2018.
  3. Safran MR, et al. Sprain. In: Instructions for Sports Medicine Patients. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Saunders; 2012. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 27, 2018.
  4. Sprains, strains and other soft-tissue injuries. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/sprains-strains-and-other-soft-tissue-injuries. Accessed April 27, 2018.
  5. AskMayoExpert. Ankle sprain. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2018.
  6. Maughan KL. Ankle sprain. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed April 30, 2018.