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Dealing with Sprains

A sprain occurs when the connective tissue that connects the ends of two bones is stretched or torn. Sprains are caused by trauma, such as a fall or a blow to the body that causes a joint to move out of place. Sprains are most common in the ankles, knees, and wrists.

Symptoms of Sprains

Occupational therapist assessing patient's armThe symptoms of a sprain or strain may include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • stiffness
  • reduced efficiency of function

Degrees of Severity of a Sprain 

First Degree

This injury usually heals within a few weeks if allowed to rest without repetitive strain similar to the initial injury; most people think of this as a minor tear.

Second Degree

This is a partial tear but more of the ligament is damaged. These types of injuries can heal on their own in six to eight weeks without additional insult but need support and a conscious effort not to irritate the structures during the healing process.

Third Degree

This is considered a complete tear, or a partial tear so severe that there is no structural integrity at the ligament any longer. May require surgery and a post-surgical orthotic device or cast.

Healing Stages

If you think you have a sprain, the first thing is to stop the activities that cause pain.

The first three days after an injury the body enters an inflammatory stage to try and start the repair cycle. During this time, avoid forceful activities to the area and use comfort measures such as ice up to 15 minutes an hour, elevation and gentle active motion that does not hurt.

The following period after the first three days is when the most healing happens. Intense pain during this time should encourage a trip to the doctor for further evaluation. 


  • If you are feeling pain, your body is telling you it is time to stop activities.
  • Don't overexert yourself, stick to what your body can handle. Pace yourself during activities.
  • Stay hydrated and eat a well-balanced diet. Engage in proper warm ups and cool downs during active physical movement. Wear appropriate activewear, including helmets and shoes etc.

An occupational therapist can teach you how to complete activities safely with your injury, decrease pain and inflammation at home, and work with you to get you back to your daily activities.