Here at American River Urgent Care in Orangevale, California, we treat acute injuries on a regular basis. Some are caused by a simple misstep or an accidental fall, while others are sports related or a result of repeated musculoskeletal (muscle, bone, or joint) stress.
For many people who arrive at our urgent care walk-in clinic with acute ankle, knee, wrist, or finger pain, our comprehensive evaluation often leads to one very common diagnosis: a ligament sprain.
Sprain injuries explained
A sprain is an injury that affects your ligaments, or the fibrous, stabilizing bands of tissue that connect bones within a joint. A sprain occurs when a ligament is stretched past its limit or torn, usually because of a sudden, twisting movement or an intense impact.
Ankles, knees, and wrists
Although the ligaments of any joint can sustain a sprain, weight-bearing or high-use joints are more vulnerable to these painful injuries — sprained ankles are most common, followed by sprained knees, wrists, thumbs, and elbows.
Joint sprains are a typical sports injury, especially among teens and adults who take part in high-impact activities (running, football) or games that require quick directional changes (soccer, basketball). Improper form, lack of conditioning, and repeated joint stress (overuse) can increase the likelihood of a sprain injury on the field.
Impact and overextension
A sprain can also occur when a sudden impact (fall, car accident) briefly twists or bends a joint into an unnatural position. A simple misstep that overextends the ankle or knee joint can lead to joint sprain as well.
Signs of a ligament sprain
All ligament sprains give rise to a similar set of symptoms, which may be more or less intense depending on the severity of the injury. The four main symptoms of a sprain are:
- Acute joint pain or general discomfort
- Internal inflammation, external swelling
- Bruising over or around the affected joint
- Joint instability and/or restricted mobility
When you sprain a weight-bearing joint like your ankle or knee, the resulting pain and instability may make it difficult to stand or walk without assistance.
Sprain symptoms by severity
Sprains are graded as mild, moderate, or severe based on the degree of damage the ligament has sustained. Sprain symptoms tend to be progressively worse with each grade:
This mild sprain occurs when a joint ligament is overstretched or sustains a very minor tear. It typically causes manageable pain accompanied by low-grade swelling and slight joint stiffness. Bruising is less common with grade one sprains.
A ligament is moderately sprained when it sustains a significant partial tear. You’re more likely to develop a bruise with a grade two sprain; you’re also more likely to experience continuous pain and swelling that makes it difficult to move your joint.
A severe sprain happens when a ligament tears or ruptures completely, resulting in a total loss of joint stability and integrity. Grade three sprains are associated with immediate, severe pain and swelling that makes movement extremely uncomfortable. Bruising typically appears later.
Diagnosis and treatment
If you think you’ve sprained your ankle, knee, wrist, thumb, or any other joint, you can begin immediate self-care with the “PRICE” approach: protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
While these strategies can help you reduce pain and swelling as you protect and support your injured ligament, it’s still a good idea to have an urgent care specialist evaluate the extent of your injury as soon as possible.
A grade-one wrist sprain may require you to wear a brace for a few weeks, while a grade-two ankle sprain may call for a removable boot and crutches. Treatment for severe sprains typically involves surgical repair.
At American River Urgent Care, we offer on-site digital x-rays to speed up the diagnosis process so you can get the care you need to heal as quickly and completely as possible.
If you have an acute injury that’s bothering you, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 916-287-8569. You can also go online to schedule a same day visit, or simply stop in during our normal business hours at your convenience.