crsheader Index Spanish version Sprains: Teen Version

What is a sprain?

A sprain is an injury that causes a stretch or a tear in a ligament. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones at a joint.

Sprains may be classified as mild, moderate, or severe.

How does it occur?

A twisting or severe stretching of a joint is the usual cause of a sprain.

What are the symptoms?

  • Your joint is swollen and painful.
  • You may not be able to move the injured joint.
  • The skin of the joint may be red at first. In a few hours to days, it may look bruised.

How are sprains diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your injury. You may have an X-ray to make sure you have not broken a bone.

How are sprains treated?

The general rule for treating sprains is R-I-C-E:

  • Rest: At first you will need to avoid activities that cause pain. If you have an ankle sprain or knee sprain you may need crutches.
  • Ice: Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables, wrapped in a cloth on the area every 3 to 4 hours, for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Compression: Your healthcare provider may recommend that you wrap an elastic bandage around your injured joint to reduce swelling.
  • Elevation: Raise the injured joint above the level of your heart when you sit or lie down until the swelling stops.


  • Use a splint, brace, or sling as recommended by your provider.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen, or other medicine as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.
  • Follow your provider’s instructions for doing exercises to help you recover.

Some sprains with complete tearing of ligaments may need surgery.

How can I prevent a sprain?

Most sprains occur from accidents that are not easily prevented. However, make sure you wear proper shoes for your activities. Watch for uneven surfaces when you are walking or exercising.

Written by Pierre Rouzier, MD. Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-02-07
Last reviewed: 2011-06-07 This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional. References
Pediatric Advisor 2011.4 Index
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