A sprain is when a force pushes the bones of a joint apart. If the force is strong enough, the ligament comes apart. This can happen from things like:

  • A sudden change in direction
  • An impact with an object or another person
  • A misstep that causes a sudden stretching

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor flexibility
  • Coordination and balance problems
  • Playing sports, such as basketball, football, skiing, and gymnastics



Problems may be:

  • Pain and tenderness, especially putting weight on the joint
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Problems moving
  • A popping sound


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. Questions will also be asked about how the injury happened. A physical exam will be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis. X-rays or an MRI scan may be done if the sprain is severe and there may be damage to the bone.



Treatment will depend on the joint and how severe the injury is. The goal of treatment is to ease pain and improve movement. Choices are:

  • Supportive care, such as rest, ice, a compression bandage, and raising the area to ease pain and swelling
  • Medicine, such as over the counter and prescription pain relievers
  • Devices that keep the area still as it heals
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the area and improve movement


Most sprains are due to accidents. They cannot always be prevented. The risk may be lowered by:

  • Using the right safety gear and techniques when playing sports
  • Stretching and strengthening the ligaments that support joints

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.