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First aid For Sprain

first aid for sprained ankle
Follow the first aid steps to treat sprained ankle.

A Sprain is pretty common for those who indulge in physical activities. The most common is ankle sprain. Sprains usually happen when there is a ligament tear. Ligaments hold the joints in place, which get torn partially or entirely apart due to injury. The sprain causes the area around it to swell and can be painful, too. The extent of the injury to the limb is proportional to the pain and swelling, so if the pain is greater, then it will not be a minor sprain.

The other sprains that occur apart from the ankle are

  • Wrist
  • Knee
  • Thumb

Ligaments are like elastic bands but more robust, enabling them to keep the joints in place. But any forceful activity can cause them to tear.

How is a sprain caused?

  • The person can sprain a limb due to sudden and unnatural movements that can tear the ligament.
  • A grievous impact from another object can cause a sprain to the limb.
  • Extensive usage of the limb can cause sprains in athletes or older people.

Symptoms of sprain (e.g. ankle)

  • With increased pain and swelling, the sprained limb may feel numb, and you cannot move the joint. It may be the case of the ligament being torn and needing medical attention from the doctor.
  • There are red streaks or rashes on the area of the injury, which indicates that you have developed an infection that medical personnel need to attend to.
  • The pain is shooting from the bones of the injured joint, which will also not resolve with just first aid.
  • If you have reinjured the area multiple times, it’s best to consult the doctor.
  • If the sprain is acute, you must get medical treatment; ignoring it would cause long-term instability and constant pain.

First aid for Sprain

When providing first aid, you could follow the first aid for fractures and go on to perform the R.I.C.E. method.

  • Allow the person to rest (who has sprained any limb). If it’s the ankle or the knee, avoid walking and prevent any pressure or weight on it. If it is the wrist and thumb, avoid using them, as it would cause even more pain and delay the healing process. A minimum of 2-3 days rest would be needed for the swelling and pain to come down. Meanwhile, the use of crutches can help. Use a brace or splint to hold the joints together, and avoid any activity.
  • You may exercise other muscles so they don’t get stiff when you try not to move the sprained limb.
  • Using ice in the place of swelling will help bring it down; you may use a
  1. Cold pack
  2. Slush bath
  3. Compression sleeve filled with cold water

The process of applying ice can be done till the swelling subsides. You can do it for  15-20 minutes 4-8 times daily. Using ice for too long on the body part can cause tissue damage, and hence, direct application is not permitted. Place a cloth or towel wrapped in ice on the injured part for short periods.

  • Compressing the sprained area with
  1. Neoprene wraps
  2. Elastic wrap
  3. Elastic bandage
  4. Neoprene sleeves
    • Keep the sprained limb elevated to reduce swelling.

Sprain Recovery and healing

Depending on the extent of the tear, the leg may heal in days or take months to recover. As the pain reduces and the swelling has lowered, gently use the sprained limb without putting much weight on it. The movement should be gradual, as any jerky movement can cause shooting pains or cause further delay in healing. You can use pain relievers for pain in the initial days of pain and swelling.

You will have to return to fitness and exercise to make the sprained limb agile again after so many days of non-use or minimal usage. A physiotherapist will guide you on how to use the limb and avoid injuries in the future. They will tell you which exercises will stabilize the limb and provide the strength to return to sports and other activities.

Sometimes a fracture is misdiagnosed by a first aid provider as a sprain, so if your pain and swelling don’t reduce in a couple of days, you better check with the doctor for further examination. They will check if there are any serious injuries because first aid doesn’t help in such instances. Medical attention is required to heal acute injuries.

Recovery time 

  • Mid and low-grade sprains heal in – 1 to 2 weeks ( with adequate rest and non-surgical intervention)
  • Moderate sprains heal in – 3 to 4 weeks.
  • Severe cases of sprain heal in – 3 to 6 months( as there is limited blood flow to the ligaments)

The doctor may prescribe a boot or crutches for severe sprains to avoid movement with the injured limb. A physiotherapist will help treat the sprain as well as

  • Get back the strength to the limb that was immobilized
  • See that it gets back to the full range of motion as before
  • Help increase stability
  • Build confidence in the person


Rest and keeping the limb immobilized can heal sprains. First aid for sprains using the R.I.C.E. method works excellently and usually helps them heal faster. If the injury is more than meets the eye, then it needs the doctor’s attention for further treatment.

  1. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Musculoskeletal Diseases
  2.  First aid for sprains Strains and tears. American College of Sports Medicine. Accessed Jan. 29, 2018.


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