How To Treat a Sprain

Nurse bandaging young man's ankle, low angle view
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The symptoms of a sprain are almost exactly the same as that of a broken bone. When in doubt, sprains should be treated the same as broken bones. The most common symptoms are:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • inability to move
  • inability to bear weight on the joint

It is not necessary to have all of the symptoms of a sprain in order for the joint to be injured.

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: May take up to 48 hours

Here's How:

  1. Stay Safe. If you are not the victim, practice universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if available.
  2. Do not call 911 for a sprain. NIAMS suggests visiting a doctor for a sprained joint if:
    • it has severe pain
    • victim unable to put any weight on it
    • it looks different than uninjured joint (swelling doesn't count)
    • victim can't move it
    • victim can't walk more than four steps on it
    • there is numbness in any part of it
    • redness or red streaks spread out from the injury.
    • it has been sprained several times before
    • there is pain, swelling, or redness over a bony part of your foot
  3. Use the RICE method to treat the sprain.
    • Rest the sprained joint by not placing weight on it. Use a cane or crutch on the uninjured side to lean away from the injury.
    • Ice the sprain with an ice pack.
    • Compress the sprain with an elastic bandage. Ask a healthcare provider to show you how to properly apply an elastic bandage.
    • Elevate the sprain above the level of the heart as often as possible during the first 48 hours.

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