Sprains (Soft Tissue Injuries)

Emergency Department, Colchester Hospital
Tel: 01206 742117
Clacton Minor Injuries Unit
Tel: 01255 201662
Harwich Minor Injuries Unit
Tel: 01255 201226

What do I need to know?

A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue around joints that connect one bone to another and help to keep the bones together and stable.
In a sprain, one or more ligaments have been overstretched twisted or torn. In a minor sprain some of the fires within the ligament are stretched. In more serious sprains, the ligament may be partially or completely torn.
A damaged ligament can cause inflammation, swelling bruising and pain around the affected joint.

The symptoms of a sprain include:

  • pain around the affected joint
  • not being able to use the joint as normal
  • bruising
  • inflammation
  • swelling.

The swelling from a sprain will occur soon after the injury but the bruising may not show until some time later, or may even not show at all. Bruising can appear some distance from the affected joint as blood from the damaged tissues seeps out along the muscles and other structures around the joint, before coming close to the skin.

Sprains are classified into three grades, depending on the severity of the injury.

Grade I The ligament has been stretched or torn slightly, but is still attached to the bone. There will be pain and a small amount of swelling, but no real difficulty in moving the joint. Grade I sprains do not normally require medical treatment.

The amount of rehabilitation needed for more severe sprains can vary. For example, a moderate ankle sprain could require 2-3 months, whilst a severe sprain could take 8-12 months to return to full function. Surgically repaired ligaments will normally need a programme of rehabilitation possible lasting several months to return the joint to full strength and function.

Prevention Regular stretching and strengthening exercises, as part of an overall physical conditioning programme, can help to reduce your risk of sprains. Regular exercise will help your joints stay flexible and reduce the likelihood of injury.

If you are prone to sprains, then taping, strapping or wrapping knees, ankles, wrists or elbows can help while you’re recovering from injury and when you first get back into your regular activities. Its best for most people to regard taping, strapping or wrapping as a short-term protective measure. You can protect your joints in the long-term by working to strengthen and condition the muscles that are around the joint. The best brace you can give yourself is your own muscle brace.

You should always make sure you are wearing footwear that offers your feet and ankles support and protection, whether you are doing sport, work, or if you are just at home. In particular, if you are wearing high-heeled shoes you are more likely to suffer a sprained ankle than if you are wearing flat shoes.

Other things you can do to help prevent sprains include:

  • warm up properly before you exercise,
  • avoid exercising or playing sport when you are tired,
  • take precautions against falling keep stairs, walkways, gardens and driveways free of clutter, and put sand or salt on icy spots outside your home in winter.

For further information please phone any of the numbers on the front of this leaflet.

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