We have changed our visitation policy for the safety of our patients and staff. Click here for the updated visitation policy and click here for information about COVID-19.

Lahey Health is now part of Beth Israel Lahey Health

(Ligament Sprain)


A sprain is an injury that damages a ligament. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones to each other.

Sprain: Grade 2
Nucleus factsheet image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


A sprain is when a force pushes the bones of a joint apart. If the force is strong enough, the ligament comes apart.

Risk Factors

Sprains can happen with everyday activities, but they are more common during sports. Sports with high speeds and risk of impact have a greater risk of sprains. These sports are:

  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Skiing
  • Gymnastics

Here are some factors that may raise your risk:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Coordination and balance problems
  • Sudden change in direction
  • Impact with object or other person
  • Misstep that causes a sudden strain at a joint


Having a sprain may cause:

  • Pain right away after the sprain—without care, the pain becomes worse over the next 24 hours
  • A popping sound
  • Local swelling, often within minutes
  • Bruising
  • Trouble moving the joint
  • Increased pain when putting pressure on the problem area

The most common joints that get sprained are:

  • Ankle
  • Knee
  • Thumb or finger joints
  • Shoulder


You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

Pictures may be needed. This will help check for damage to bones or other structures. This may be done with:

Sprains are graded from 1 to 3:

  • Grade 1—Some stretching with micro-tearing of ligaments
  • Grade 2—Partial tearing of ligaments
  • Grade 3—Complete tearing of ligaments


Treatment will depend on the joint involved and how much it is injured. Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. It may mean:


Treatment will depend on the joint involved and how much it is injured. Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. It may mean:

Decrease Swelling

Elevation will help reduce swelling. Compression with an elastic bandage also helps control it.

Ice and Heat

Ice may help reduce swelling and pain in the first few days after you are hurt.

After a couple of days, heat may help loosen tight or injured muscles. Wait for swelling to go away before using heat.


Medicine can help to reduce pain and swelling. Medicine may include:

  • Over-the-counter pain medicine, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen
  • Topical pain medicine—creams or patches that are put on the skin
  • Prescription pain medicine

Note: Aspirin is not advised for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.


Rehabilitation exercises may be helpful after the sprain heals. Exercises can help make muscles stronger and increase range of motion. Medical help is often needed at this stage. It is important to strengthen the muscles where the ligament is. Those muscles need to be protected against further injury.


It may be hard to avoid sprains. Joints are at risk during sports. To lower your chance of getting a sprain:

  • Use proper techniques to help avoid awkward motions and missteps.
  • Do flexibility, strength, and fitness training.


American College of Sports Medicine  http://acsm.org 

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons  http://orthoinfo.aaos.org 


Canadian Orthopaedic Association  http://www.coa-aco.org 

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation  http://www.canorth.org 


Ankle sprain. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113633/Ankle-sprain  . Updated April 30, 2018. Accessed June 11, 2018.

Derry S, Moore RA, Gaskell H, McIntyre M, Wiffen PJ. Topical NSAIDs for acute musculoskeletal pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2015;(6):CD007402.

Sprained ankle. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00150. Updated February 2016. Accessed June 11, 2018.

Revision Information