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Sports Sprains

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What Are Sports Sprains?

A sprain is a torn muscle or ligament common in athletes. When you damage the muscle or ligament, you may notice inflammation or spasms.

Sports sprains can happen from overuse or from force — such as a collision or fall.

Types of Sports Sprains

You can sprain almost any area of your body.

The most common types of sports sprains happen in the:

  • Wrist
  • Thumb
  • Ankle
  • Knee

Wrist and Thumb Sprain Causes and Risks

Wrist and thumb sprains happen when a force pushes the hand or finger backward.

Athletes at risk for thumb sprains are those that play:

  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Baseball

Ankle Sprains

In an ankle sprain, you can tear the ligaments:

  • On the outside of the ankle — called a lateral ankle sprain.
  • That hold the ankle in place — called a medial ankle sprain.
  • That hold the lower two leg bones together — called a high ankle sprain.

Sports sprain prevention

To help prevent strains while playing sports:

  • Stretch and warm up before any activity.
  • Perform strength exercises, even in the off season.
  • Avoid sudden increases in the intensity of your training programs.
  • Wear the right shoes for your sport and make sure they fit well.
  • Avoid running on wet floors or uneven surfaces.
  • Use tape or braces for added supports. 

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Sports Sprain Symptoms and Diagnosis

Sprains happen when you overstretch or tear the muscles and ligaments of a joint. These painful injuries can affect just about any joint in the body.

Sprain Symptoms

Sports sprain symptoms include:

  • Swelling and tenderness
  • Bruising
  • Stiffness
  • Warm to the touch
  • Pain with movement

Sports Sprain Diagnosis

If your joint looks out of place or your symptoms don't improve within a few days of sprain treatment, you should call a doctor.

To properly diagnose the injury, your doctor will:

  • Perform a physical exam.
  • Ask if you've had a sprain or similar injury in the past.
  • Want to know what medications you're taking.

To confirm a sports sprain diagnosis — and rule out fractures or more serious injuries — your doctor may request imaging tests, such as:

  • X-rays
  • CT scans
  • MRI scans 

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Sports Sprain Treatment

If you’re wondering how to treat a sprain, the team at UPMC Sports Medicine can help.

At-home Sports Sprain Treatment

There are a few ways to manage sports sprain inflammation and pain at home.

For a strain of any joint, you'll want to:

  • Use the R.I.C.E. method — rest, ice, compression, and elevation — for 24 to 48 hours after the injury. The RICE method is one of the best home remedies for sprains.
  • Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Make sure to take it easy until you're sprain fully heals.

Medical and Surgical Sprain Treatment

Depending on the severity of your sports sprain, you may need to:

  • Wear a splint for wrist or thumb sprains.
  • Use crutches for a while to keep the weight off an ankle or knee sprain.
  • Have surgery to repair muscle or ligament damage that can't heal on it's own.

Sports Sprain Rehab

In most cases of sports sprains, your doctor will prescribe a rehab or physical therapy program specific to your sport to help you get back to physical activity. 

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