Alternative names
Joint sprain

A sprain is an injury to the ligaments around a joint. Ligaments are strong, flexible fibers that hold bones together. When a ligament is stretched too far or tears, the joint will become painful and swell.

Sprains are caused when a joint is forced to move into an unnatural position. For example, “twisting” one’s ankle causes a sprain to the ligaments around the ankle.


  • Joint pain or muscle pain  
  • Swelling  
  • Joint stiffness  
  • Discoloration of the skin, especially bruising

First Aid

  1. Apply ice immediately to help reduce swelling. Wrap the ice in cloth - DO NOT place ice directly on the skin.
  2. Try NOT to move the affected area. To help you do this, bandage the affected area firmly, but not tightly. ACE bandages work well. Use a splint if necessary.
  3. Keep the swollen joint elevated above the level of the heart, even while sleeping.
  4. Rest the affected joint for several days.

Aspirin, ibuprofen, or other pain relievers can help. DO NOT give aspirin to children.

Keep pressure off the injured area until the pain subsides (usually 7 to 10 days for mild sprains and 3 to 5 weeks for severe sprains). You may require crutches when walking.

Call immediately for emergency medical assistance if

Go to the hospital right away or call 911 if:

  • You suspect a broken bone.  
  • The joint appears to be deformed.  
  • You have a serious injury or the pain is severe.  
  • There is an audible popping sound and immediate difficulty using the joint.

Call your doctor if:

  • Swelling does not go down within 2 days.  
  • You have symptoms of infection - the area becomes redder, more painful, or warm, or you have a fever over 100°F.  
  • The pain does not go away after several weeks.


  • Wear protective footwear for activities that place stress on your ankle and other joints.  
  • Make sure that shoes fit your feet properly.  
  • Avoid high-heeled shoes.  
  • Always warm-up and stretch prior to exercise and sports.  
  • Avoid sports and activities for which you are not conditioned.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Janet G. Derge, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.