Sprains are a common injury that can happen to anyone, from athletes to those simply going about their daily activities. Most sprains will heal on their own, but some require evaluation and treatment by a specialist.  Here we will discuss sprains and how they should be evaluated and treated.

Sprain versus fracture

Both sprains and fractures can occur from similar activities or injuries.  In a fracture, a bone is broken, but it might remain in alignment and not be obviously fractured.  In a sprain, the ligaments and tendons that hold joints together are injured and there is rarely deformity but frequently swelling or bruising.  These are very different injuries that require specific diagnosis and treatment.  But how do we know the difference?

It is often difficult to differentiate sprains from fractures.  But in general, fractures tend to be more painful and have more swelling and bruising.  Unfortunately, these subjective differences aren’t reliable for differentiating a fracture from a sprain.  This can only be done confidently by a doctor, often with the help of imaging such as x-rays, CT scans, or MRI.

So if the pain is severe, especially if it prevents you from being able to use the injured extremity, or if there is severe swelling or bruising, it’s a good idea to be evaluated by a doctor who can determine if you need imaging or special treatment.  Furthermore, even if symptoms aren’t initially severe, if you aren’t noticing improvement after 3-4 days, you should be evaluated by a doctor.

Common Symptoms of Sprains

Recognizing the symptoms of a sprain is crucial for prompt diagnosis and treatment. While you need an exam from your doctor to confirm a sprain, here are some common symptoms:

1. Pain

Pain is often the first and most noticeable symptom of a sprain. The pain may be sharp or throbbing and can range from mild to severe.

2. Swelling

Swelling occurs due to the body’s natural response to injury. The affected area may become visibly swollen, and it may feel warm to the touch.

3. Bruising

Bruising or discoloration of the skin around the injured area is common, particularly in moderate to severe sprains.

4. Limited Range of Motion

A sprain can result in restricted movement of the affected joint or limb. You may find it challenging to move the injured area as freely as before.

5. Instability

Joint instability is more pronounced in moderate to severe sprains. You may feel that the joint is loose or wobbly, making it difficult to bear weight or perform daily activities.

Treatment Options for Sprains

The treatment approach for a sprain depends on its severity. Here are some general guidelines for sprain management:

1. Rest

Resting the injured area is crucial to allow the ligament(s) to heal. Avoid putting weight or excessive strain on the affected joint or limb until the pain is significantly improved.  This might require immobilization in a splint or cast or the use of crutches for a time.

2. Ice

Applying ice has not been shown to hasten healing or even reduce swelling, but it can reduce pain.  If applying ice improves your pain, you may use a cold pack for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day.

3. Compression

Wrapping the injured area with an elastic bandage can provide support and reduce swelling. Be careful not to wrap it too tightly, as this can impede circulation.

4. Elevation

Elevating the injured limb above heart level can further reduce swelling and promote healing.

5. Physical Therapy

For moderate to severe sprains, physical therapy may be recommended to improve strength, flexibility, and stability in the affected joint.

6. Medication

Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help manage pain and inflammation. Consult your healthcare provider before taking any medication.

7. Surgery

In rare cases, severe sprains may require surgical intervention to repair the damaged ligament. Your healthcare provider will assess the severity of your sprain and recommend the most appropriate treatment.


Sprains can be painful and inconvenient, but with the right knowledge and prompt treatment, most patients recover fully. Recognizing the symptoms that should prompt evaluation by a doctor is the first step toward effective treatment and healing. 

If you suspect you have a severe sprain or fracture, it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider for a proper evaluation and personalized treatment plan. CapRock Health offers 24-hour emergency care, and our world-class staff is here to help you. Remember that early intervention can significantly improve your chances of a successful recovery.