Sprains, like many medical conditions, vary in degree of severity. With each “grade” there are different symptoms, treatment methods and level of discomfort.
A grade I sprain is diagnosed when there is only stretching or a light tear in the affected ligament. This can be accompanied by some soreness, light swelling and stiffness. You should only experience slight discomfort if any when walking and the joint is generally still stable.
A grade II sprain is slightly worse with a more significant tear to the ligament. Symptoms include a fair amount of pain, along with substantial swelling and bruising. Walking is painful and moderately unstable, with areas of tenderness.
A grade III sprain is the worst degree of this condition. It is usually associated with a complete tear or rupture of the ligament with severe swelling and bruising. The pain is intense and walking is not an option.
With that said, how does one go about treating this unfortunate injury?
For starters, seek medical attention immediately. However, with a sprain, symptoms may not be noticeable right away. Essentially, this injury occurs when the body is under stress. Whether it happens under one severely stressful incident or gradually comes during increments of stress on the joint, your body usually handles it like a fight or flight situation. It can take minutes or even hours for your body to absorb the injury and show signs of damage. As a response mechanism the muscles surrounding the effected joint will work hard to stabilize the injury, and therefore muscle spasms are quite common. Limping is a good example of the body trying to protect itself.
So, after all said and done, and you are diagnosed with a sprain, what happens next?
Treating a sprain is no walk in the park. Depending on the severity, you could be out of action up to four months. Most sprains can heal on their own in up to six weeks, but even then, light exercising and stretching are a must - even though it can be extremely painful. My best advice for you to treat your sprain is to rest, ice and elevate. Only after the pain and swelling start subsiding would I recommend slowly starting to rehabilitate it. Another piece of advice would be to invest in an ankle or wrist brace. And correct me if I am wrong, but I think pharmacies sell braces for fingers, knees and elbows as well. Don’t be afraid to look like a goof in a brace for a few weeks, they are very helpful in stabilizing the joint, giving your damaged ligaments a chance to heal.
If you read my first article on sprains, you might remember me saying some nonsense about how you are sometimes better off breaking your ankle than spraining it. Well, this is where I reiterate my statement. A clean break is commonly reset and casted for six weeks. After that your bones are healed and strong again. You just need to take proper precaution in easing back into regular activity and retrain some of your muscles surrounding the break. With a sprain, you could be sidelined up to four months, and even after the fact, never really gain full strength and motion on the damaged joint. Obviously there will be cases where the sprain is a grade 1 with minimal damage and on the flip side a break will be messy and not heal properly, leading to complications in the recovery process, but I think you catch my drift here.
An injury relating to a ligament of tendon can be very painful and requires proper medical attention. So, don’t rush back into physical activity until you feel ready. And always remember to stretch first!