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A Mom’s Guide to Sprains

The bumps, bruises, and goose eggs that come with raising children
don’t seem to stop until about the kids enter high school; and by that time
you’ve moved on to more serious injuries that come with playing sports or your
teen’s new skateboarding hobby. No matter what ache or pain your child comes
through the door with, chances are good that sooner or later, one is likely to
be a sprain. Don’t miss this quick guide to recognizing sprains and treating
What is a Sprain?
The most common sprains happen to the wrist, ankles, and knees.
What exactly is a sprain? While muscles and tendons can be strained, it’s
only ligaments that can be sprained when a sudden forceful impact or awkward
twist or turn temporarily dislocates a joint.

Ligaments are tough, fibrous bands of tissue that help hold the bones of a
joint in place. When they are stretched past their limits, tiny fibers in the
ligament can tear, become inflamed and irritated. With a severe sprain, an
entire ligament can be completely torn through.

A collision with another player on the soccer field can lead to a
sprain, but so can more innocuous activities like rolling your ankle stepping
off a staircase or bracing yourself with arms outstretched during a fall.
What are the Symptoms of a Sprain?
Depending on which area of the body is injured, symptoms of a
sprain may vary but typically include:
  • Audible “popping” sound at the time
    of injury
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Pain
  • Limited range of movement
Severe sprains may even cause visible deformity on top of normal
swelling. In the event that pain is so severe that the ankle, wrist, or other
affected joint can barely be touched or moved, or if symptoms are accompanied
by any numbing or loss of sensation, it is critical that you get medical
attention (urgent care, ER, or otherwise). An underlying problem like a
fracture or nerve damage could also be at play and lead to complications if not
correctly diagnosed.

Mild sprains can be examined and treated at home, although when in doubt,
scheduling an appointment with your child’s doctor may simply put your mind at
ease and make sure your child has an appropriate plan of action for recovery.

Treating Sprains at Home
Luckily traditional, non-invasive methods for treatment are still
quite effective in treating minor sprains at home. While joint re-mobilization
is the ultimate goal for efficient rehab, it is important to avoid bearing
weight on the injured area and practice the R.I.C.E. method.
Rest the affected limb by avoiding strenuous movement and
weight-bearing, i.e. don’t walk on a sprained ankle and don’t grab, hold, or
grasp anything with the hand of your sprained wrist. Use mobility aids like
crutches or knee scooters for lower leg injuries and arm slings or braces for
wrist sprains.
Ice the injured joint by applying an ice pack or soaking it in ice
water. You can use ice therapy as frequently as every 2 to 3 hours, but only
for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Ice therapy facilitates the healing
reducing swelling and numbing spasming nerve endings.
Compress the swollen joint with an elastic bandage or wrap. This
helps force excess fluids (lactic acid, etc) away from the area to alleviate
swelling; and it cues the body to circulate blood through deeper and narrower
blood vessels to aid tissue repair.
Elevate the injured limb to let gravity naturally assist. Simply
prop the ankle, leg, or wrist up on a couple pillows while reclining or lying
Over-the-counter pain relievers may be helpful in tackling
inflammation and pain as well, but heed caution and follow the instructions on
the bottle regarding use. Oftentimes, simple distractions like reading, talking
with a friend on the phone, or watching TV can also help your child manage
Re-mobilizing the joint following an injury can help prevent
stiffness and get your child exercising again, but you want to avoid doing too
much too soon. Simple stretches and strengthening exercises that gradually
increase in duration and resistance can help re-strengthen the injured joint
and improve flexibility. Strengthening adjacent muscles like forearm and calf
can also help alleviate some of the burden commonly-used joints bear.

When in doubt, talk to your child’s doctor about recovery and what
types of physical activity are ok in the weeks after a sprain. They may even
recommend wearing a brace or sports tape to reinforce and support the joint to
prevent future re-injury.