Is a Sprain Serious?

Is a Sprain Serious?

The terms “strains” and “sprains” often get used interchangeably. However, while they cause similar symptoms, they involve very different tissue in the body.

When you strain something, you injure a muscle or the tissues — such as tendons — that attach muscle to bone. A sprain, on the other hand, involves ligaments. Ligaments connect bone to bone in joints, such as the ankles, shoulders, and elbows. Because a sprain involves ligaments and joints, they can be slower to heal and can require surgical intervention.

As an orthopedic surgeon, Thomas F. Saylor, MD, sees sprains on a regular basis at Orthopaedic Care Specialists in North Palm Beach, Florida. In this blog, Dr. Saylor helps demystify sprains and explains why some can require expert care.

Sprain basics

When you sprain a ligament, you stretch this strong tissue beyond its limits. Depending on the force and joint involved, it can even tear these elastic fibers. 

Signs of a sprain include:

These types of injuries can occur for several reasons, such as car accidents, sports injuries, or even taking an awkward step while walking. 

Understanding sprain severity

Sprains are a common problem, and they can affect anyone of any age, from children to older adults, and couch potatoes to fitness aficionados. They can happen anywhere in the body where you have joints, even the fingers and thumbs. 

Because sprains vary from person to person, Dr. Saylor uses a medical grading system to determine the severity of the injury.

Grade 1

This is the most minor sprain and describes some stretching or tearing of the ligament. Signs of a Grade 1 injury include mild swelling, stiffness, and tenderness in the area, and joint stability isn’t impacted.

Grade 2

These types of sprains are more severe and come with more moderate swelling, bruising, and pain. A Grade 2 sprain involves an incomplete ligament tear, which can lead to joint instability and increased pain and tenderness to the touch.

Grade 3

If you have a Grade 3 sprain, you have completely torn ligaments. These injuries typically cause severe pain, swelling, and bruising, along with joint instability. In many cases, using the joint can be nearly impossible due to discomfort and decreased function.

The most effective treatments for sprains

In most cases, you can usually treat Grade 1 and Grade 2 sprains by following the RICE method, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. With Grade 2 injuries, Dr. Saylor might also recommend physical therapy as well as immobilization devices or splints to support the healing process.

When you have a Grade 1 or Grade 2 sprain, you can usually expect to see a modest improvement within a few days, but even minor sprains can take months to heal.

If you have a Grade 3 sprain, you have a serious injury and could experience permanent joint instability without treatment. In these cases, Dr. Saylor might recommend minimally invasive surgery to repair the ligament damage and restore proper support to the joint.

In addition to these approaches, Dr. Saylor also offers regenerative medicine treatments, such as platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy. This innovative approach uses a solution made from your own blood to reduce inflammation, trigger new cell regeneration, and support your natural ability to heal.

To find the best treatment for your sprain, book an appointment online or over the phone with Orthopaedic Care Specialists today.

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