Most people expect to have some pain or discomfort when they play sports or exercise. However, there’s a big difference between having sore or tender muscles after a workout than the sharp, sudden, or acute pain that comes with injuries like sprains.
Our team at LA Orthopaedic Specialists in downtown Los Angeles has advanced training in diagnosing and treating minor to complex musculoskeletal conditions, including sprains. Here’s why you shouldn’t ignore this type of injury — and never try to keep playing with one.
A sprain is a common orthopedic injury that’s often confused with a strain. When you have a sprain, you tear a ligament. These strong bands of tissue provide stability to a joint and hold your bones together — like at your knee, wrist, or ankle.
A strain, on the other hand, affects a tendon or muscle. These injuries occur when you stretch a muscle too far, like when you pull the hamstring on the back of your thigh.
Common signs of a sprain include:
- Tenderness, swelling, or inflammation
- Pain at the affected joint
- Problems being able to use the joint or bear weight on it
Strains can have similar symptoms, but they develop in the affected muscle, not a joint.
The problems with sprains
A sprain may not seem like a big deal, but when you experience pain, your body is trying to tell you there’s a problem. Even ignoring a mild sprain can lead to long-term damage in the joint, increasing your risk of re-injury and osteoarthritis.
Plus, the sooner you stop using a sprained ligament, the faster your injury heals so you can get back in the game again.
Caring for a sprain
Many sprains respond to the R.I.C.E. method during the first 48-72 hours:
- Rest the joint and stop the activity that caused your injury — never keep playing
- Ice every two hours for 15-20 minutes at a time
- Compression, or bandaging the joint, reduces movement and swelling
- Elevation of the injury helps keep swelling down
At the same time, you should take steps to avoid H.A.R.M. — heat, alcohol, running, and massage. Each of these can cause more damage to the ligament and delay your recovery.
Sprains often start improving after approximately two weeks, but they can take months to fully recover, depending on the severity of your injury. If you have a lower-body injury, we also recommend avoiding strenuous activity, like running, for up to eight weeks to avoid causing more damage.
When you have a severe sprain or don’t get relief from at-home treatments, it’s time to see an expert for additional treatment.
Professional sprain treatment
During your appointment, we perform a comprehensive exam and discuss how your injury occurred. We may recommend tests such as ultrasounds, X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs. This digital imaging can help us determine the full extent of ligament damage so we can develop an effective treatment strategy for your injury.
Common treatments for sprains include:
- Physical therapy
- Laser therapy
- Electric stimulation therapy
- PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections
A sprain that doesn’t respond to these therapies could require surgery, which we can often perform using minimally invasive arthroscopic techniques.
Don’t keep playing if you have a sprain. Contact our office so we can determine the extent of your injury and help you start healing. Call 213-455-8448, or book an appointment online today.