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It’s hard to know what to do about a sprained ligament. The pain is usually too intense to simply “walk off.” That is probably a bad idea anyway since this kind of injury increases the risk of further and more serious injuries. But a trip to the ER may not be in order either, as wait times can be long and short of splinting and giving your pain medication, hospitalists will recommend you see your primary physician for further treatment.
Especially since these wounds are so common, it’s important to understand the injury so that it does not completely derail the fitness routine you have worked so hard to establish.
How Do I Know I Sprained a Ligament?
Since both sprains and fractures cause intense pain, swelling, the inability to bear weight, and loss of mobility, it is not easy to tell the difference. Generally, if the swelling has not gone down in a day or so after you’ve administered the RICE method (more on that in a minute), the bone is probably broken. There are also some immediate indicators:
Injury Sounds: Try to remember the sound. Bone fractures sound like bone fractures. There’s a trademark cracking sound. Ligament sprains, on the other hand, have more of a popping sound.
Deformity: If the wrist, ankle, foot, or other injured area is crooked or appears out of place, there’s a good chance that the bone is fractured. Otherwise, the injury is probably a sprain.
Numbness: Broken bones usually affect the nerves as well, which is why the injured area often becomes numb or tingly after a serious fracture.
A Degree of Discomfort: While both sprains and fractures are very similar in this area, there is a difference between the complete inability to bear weight and the almost complete inability to bear weight. Only the latter is indicative of a fracture.
Sprains vary in degree as well. Sometimes, the area will only be tender to the touch or mildly painful.
Even a rather severe sprain can be easily treated at home. The following method should begin producing noticeable results within twenty-four or forty-eight hours:
Rest: It’s usually very easy to rest the joint when it is completely immobile and painful. The challenge comes after the first few days when the injury starts to feel better. But recovery is not completely over until the injured areas looks, feels, and acts exactly like the non-injured joint.
Ice: Twenty minutes of cold therapy three or four times a day should reduce swelling and relieve pain. If the skin looks white, you are over-icing the injury.
Compression: KT tape, an Ace bandage, or a compression brace supports the injured area while the ligament heals and also reduces inflammation.
Elevation: Keep the area elevated above the heart for extended periods. However, be sure and move it around a little to keep the blood circulating properly and also lay a foundation for 100 percent range of motion following recovery.
That recovery time varies according to the area and severity of the injury but usually lasts two to four weeks.
Common Fitness-Related Ligament Sprains
Whether because of trauma or a combination of overuse and poor mechanics, sprains are one of the most common fitness injuries. Here are some specifics:
Wrist: Falls usually cause a wrist sprain because when you fall, you naturally extend your arms to break your impact with the ground. The resulting weight, speed, and momentum are often more than the wrist ligaments can bear.
Ankle: These wounds come about either because of trauma, such as twisting an ankle at an awkward angle, or overuse/mechanics. Sometimes, runners adjust their mileage too rapidly or place too much stress on their ankles by taking too few strides.
Knee: Knee bumps are not unheard of, especially indoors, but in terms of fitness-related knee sprains, the issue is almost always overuse.
Don’t ignore ligament sprains, but don’t panic over them either. Just take it easy for a couple of weeks and then get back into your normal routine.
By: Joe Fleming