We all have memories of running around on the playground at school when we were kids. Maybe we were playing tag or running just for the sake of running because that’s just what kids do, but everything came to a grinding halt when your foot catches on a rock or a small hole and you go plummeting to the ground. You probably remember quite clearly the throbbing in your hands and knees from falling and scraping them against rocks, but most of all you probably remember the shooting pain in your ankle. As a kid, you might have sworn up and down that it was broken, but a visit to the doctor just proves that it was a sprain. Of course, children aren’t the only ones among us who get sprains. Athletes, too, suffer these injuries quite often. As an adult you might suffer from a sprain by simply tripping over one of your children’s toys or a change in elevation that you weren’t expecting when stepping off a stair. Either way, a sprain is a sprain.
But what is a sprain? We all know the word, but many of us may not actually know the technicality behind it. A sprain is actually a tear in a ligament. Ligaments, of course, are the fibers that connect your bones to other bones. These are different from tendons as tendons are the fibers that connect muscles to bone (an injury to your tendons would actually be a strain). Your ligaments give structural stability that keep your joints from going outside of their normal range of motion, so a sprain occurs when that joint your ligaments are trying to control breaks out of that range.
The way a sprain is treated depends on the severity of the injury. A severe sprain, such as an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, requires lots of rest and surgical repair, followed by physical therapy to help the injury heal. No matter the severity of the injury, the sprain needs to be challenged in a safe way. “The worst thing you can do for a sprain is to just lay around and not use it,” Ben Smith, Director of Therapy at HealthCARE Express’ Physical Therapy clinic, said. Ligaments are made up of soft tissue collagen, and every 180 days that collagen regrows and reforms. With this in mind, it becomes clear why someone who has a sprain should put a healthy amount of stress on it for it to heal properly. If you just lie around and don’t put any good stress on the injury then the ligaments will not heal properly. If the ligaments heals wrong the fibers won’t line up right. They’ll look “more like spaghetti than a braided rope”. It’ll be a lot easier to injure in the future because the structure is weaker.
Don’t put too much stress on a sprain, though, as that can also damage the ligaments. For the first couple of days after injury, try to rest. Keep your injured joint elevated and compressed. Treat it with ice to reduce swelling around the injury. Head slowly back into moving around and stressing the joint. Don’t push yourself to the point where it hurts too much to move. Just keep the joint active so the ligaments will align and heal properly. Some sprains may require medical attention and physical therapy to recover from, depending on their severity. If the sprain is a recurring injury you should seek out physical therapy as the injury probably never healed properly and needs to be retrained.
If you or a loved one happen to sprain an ankle, or any other joint, come by HealthCARE Express so we can help get you back up on your feet without any struggle.