If you twist your ankle severely, or fall and wrench your wrist, it’s likely you will tear some ligaments. These ligaments – the term comes from a Latin word meaning a bond – tie bones into a joint. They can stretch, as they do constantly in normal use, but not too far, nor too far, nor too suddenly. That is why all those taking part in athletics and sports should first do a few gentle stretching exercises.
Doctors take X-rays when patients complain of a sprain, because the injuries often turn out to be fractures. Ankle sprains are the most common, caused usually by turning over a foot, so that most of the weight falls on the ankle. Blood rushes to the injury. Synovial fluid, which lubricates the joint, may escape from its capsule. Very quickly, the ankle swells, turning black and blue. The best treatment for a sprain is first to reduce the swelling with an ice pack. Rest is essential, preferably with the limb raised higher the head. A firm bandage helps to restrict movement and subsequent pain. Once the swelling subsides, gentle exercise is usually beneficial.
Agony is not necessarily a reliable guide to the severity of a sprain. Perversely, slight sprains in which the ligaments are strained but not torn, sometimes hurt and swell more.