Easy Does It
Sprains occur when you stretch or tear a ligament, a tough band of fibrous tissue that attaches one bone to another at a joint, such as the ankle or knee. You'll feel sharp pain, especially if you try to use the joint, and it may swell and turn black and blue.
A sprain can take anywhere from two to eight weeks to heal completely. Rosemary Agostini, M.D., clinical assistant professor of orthopedics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a sports medicine and family practice physician at the Virginia Mason Medical
Center, both in Seattle, says that if you can take more than three steps, you may be able to care for the sprain yourself.
When To See A Doctor
If you sprain your knee, ankle or another joint so badly that you experience extreme pain and cannot take even three steps on it, or if the injured joint looks disfigured, go to a hospital emergency room or an urgent care center, says Rosemary Agostini, M.D., clinical assistant professor of orthopedics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a sports medicine and family practice physician at the Virginia Mason Medical Center, both in Seattle. It might be a fracture.
First, rest. "If it's painful, don't put weight on the injured joint," says Dr. Agostini.
Ice it, ice it, ice it. "Immediately ice a sprain to relieve the pain and decrease the swelling," says Dr. Agostini. Keep the ice on for 20 minutes and reapply three or four times a day until pain and swelling has decreased.
Make sure that you wrap the ice in a cloth so that it isn't in direct contact with your skin, and you don't end up with frostbite.
Elevate the sprained joint. To reduce pain and swelling, you should raise your sprained joint above heart level, says Dr. Agostini.
Bandage it. Wrapping your sprained joint with an Ace-type bandage will compress the area around your joint and decrease the swelling, says Dr. Agostini. The wrapping should be snug around the joint, but not so tight that your blood can't circulate freely.
Take a pain reliever. Anti-inflammatories such as aspirin and ibuprofen also will ease the pain, says Stacie Grossfeld, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Use the dosage recommended on the package or ask your physician. If you have a history of peptic ulcers, acetaminophen would be a more appropriate choice, she says.