How are sprains treated?

Your healthcare provider will advise you to follow the PRICE method for the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury. PRICE stands for:

  • Protection: Try to immobilize an area of concern or stay off a weight bearing joint to prevent further motion and restore alignment. You may be advised to use a brace/splint or crutches to stay off the injured area.
  • Rest: Cut back your regular exercises and activities of daily living. An injury like a sprain requires a change in your normal routine to let the area heal.
  • Ice: Apply an ice pack to the injured area for 10 minutes. Do this four to eight times a day. You can use a cold pack, ice bag or plastic bag filled with ice wrapped in a towel. An even better way to ice the area of concern is to use an ice massage method — you can use an ice cube held in a washcloth or put water in a Dixie® cup into the freezer. After the cup is frozen, peel back the top of the cup so it is like a frozen push pop. Use a circular motion or back and forth motion over the area of concern. You only need three to five minutes to ice this because it will penetrate deeply into the area of concern. To avoid frost bite and cold injury, do not apply the ice for longer than 20 minutes at a time. Once you start to feel numb or uncomfortable — you should stop icing.
  • Compression: Compression (continuous pressure) of the injured area my help reduce swelling. Using an ACE bandage, you can wrap the affected area always from fingers towards the shoulder (on the upper body) or from your toes to your groin (lower body). This prevents swelling distal (away from the middle of your body) to where the injury is wrapped. A bandage should feel snug, but not so tight it is uncomfortable or cuts off your circulation. You can adjust as needed. An easier way to apply compression from your knee down is with compression stockings. These can be easily purchased online or over-the-counter.
  • Elevation: In order to help decrease swelling, keep the injured area elevated on a pillow. You should try to keep the injury above the level of your heart.

Do you ever need surgery for a sprain?

Depending on the joint involved and severity of sprain, sometimes surgery is needed to treat a sprain. If a surgery consult is recommended, they will evaluate the injury, the potential to heal both with and without surgery and make recommendations for the best recovery based on your age, activity level and risk factors involved with surgery.

Will I need to go to physical therapy for a sprain?

Often, physical therapy is recommended after suffering a sprain. This kind of injury can take time to heal and may change the dynamics of the joint. The degree of sprain will determine the steps you will need to take in the recovery process. A physical therapist will work with you to regain strength and mobility in your joint. The therapist will teach you exercises, as well as give you a home exercise program, to prevent the injured joint from becoming stiff. Exercises to build strength and balance (in ankle and knee sprains) will be increased over time until you are back at a pre-injury level of activity. Your physical therapy can help with a return to exercise, sports programs and get the affected joint even stronger than it was to begin with. If you have suffered repeated sprains (such as an ankle sprain) or were immobilized for a while as the area healed (like in a boot or cast), physical therapy will be strongly recommended to reduce the chance of getting injured again.

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