by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
A sprain is stretching or tearing of a ligament. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that hold bones to each other. Sprains are more common in the ankle, knee, thumb or finger joints, and the shoulder.
A sprain is when a force pushes the bones of a joint apart. If the force is strong enough, the ligament comes apart. This can happen from things like:
Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:
Problems may be:
The doctor will ask about symptoms, past health, and how the injury happened. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis can often be made from the exam. X-rays or MRI scan may be done if the sprain is severe and there may be damage to the bone.
Treatment will depend on the joint and how severe the injury is. The goal of treatment is to ease pain and improve movement. Choices are:
Most sprains are due to accidents. They cannot always be prevented. The risk may be lowered by:
American College of Sports Medicine
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Ankle sprain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/ankle-sprain. October 12, 2020.
Derry S, Moore RA, et al. Topical NSAIDs for acute musculoskeletal pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2015;(6):CD007402.
Sprained ankle. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
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October 12, 2020.
Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT
Last Updated: 6/8/2021
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