Injury Basics 2 – Sprains and their treatment
7th December 2016
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Sprains are different from a strains. A muscle gets strained, a ligament or the tough capsule around a joint gets sprained.

Ligaments and joint capsules

Ligaments fix bone to bone, provide stability in the body and guide joint movement. Ligaments surrounding joints prevent surfaces separating too far. They also stop the surfaces touching each which would cause them to wear down. Ligaments are rich in the stretchy protein ‘collagen’, combining elasticity with monumental strength.

Joint capsules are made of the same stuff. Normally, they are thinner than ligaments because their main function is holding the fluid inside joints. Joint capsules also feed messages back to the brain to stop you bending a joint too far.

Joint capsules and ligaments often merge, forming thicker bands around parts of the joints that need to be more stable.

What a sprain is

A sprain occurs when a ligament has been stretched beyond its normal limit. This is similar to stretching a rubber band past the elastic point. When you do this it always ends up a bit loose compared to the original. A ligament or joint capsule will end up with a sprain when a large force over-stretches it.
Bending a joint in te opposite way to normal movement will cause a sprain. Bending the joint further than normal will also lead to a sprain.
A sprain from overstretched joint capsules or ligaments will heal with the right treatment. Left alone they can lead to early wear and tear of a joint.

How to fix it

Easy to remember and correct treatment is to “RICE” the sprain.


Rest from the activity that caused the problem. Keep moving the joint without load. Listen to your body and reduce any significant exercise.


Cool the area, it reduces inflammation (swelling) and eases pain. Short bursts of ice also increase the circulation. Five to six one-minute applications of ice within a ten minute period works well. If leave the ice on, make sure you remobe it after a maximum of five minutes. Re-apply after two minutes. Repeat this at least twice a day for the first two to three days. For full instructions, visit our hydrotherapy page.


Sprains can be helped by gently compressing the area. A compression bandage supports it and limits swelling. Make sure it is not too tight! (If your arm or leg turns blue or drops off, you need to loosen the bandage, it isn’t a tourniquet!) 


Lift the body part above the heart level for at least three ten-minute periods every day. This causes the inflammation to drain away from the area and speeds up healing.

Things to remember

Movement is important because it helps healing. Stay as active as you comfortably can. Don't force it or cause pain, but keep the joint moving through a comfortable range of motion. This encourages blood circulation and keeps flexibility during healing.
Sometimes pain relief can be useful to control the discomfort but NSAID medication can actually slow down healing.

Things to remember

If pain or swelling fails to improve within a work week, make an appointment! We will assess the injury, give the correct treatment and advice for how to get better as quickly as possible.

Get to a qualified doctor or physician if your pain is too much for paracetamol! If the joint can’t weightbear or things go numb or “dead” or if swelling is uncontrollable, you might need to get help from A&E. Telephone 111 for advice.

About the Author

Alex G

Member since: 17th August 2015

Bolton Osteopathic are the pre-eminent healthcare musculoskeletal specialists in Bolton. Award-winning, professional and well established, with many years of experience, you know you’re in safe hands.

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