Understanding How Sprains Are Graded

You’ve certainly heard of an ankle sprain; after all, an estimated 2 million ankle sprains occur each year. But a sprain can occur anytime a ligament is overstretched or torn. Swelling, bruising, and pain at a joint often indicate a sprain.

Ligaments are the tough connective tissue that hold two bones together at a joint. You could, therefore, experience a sprain in just about any joint, like your knee, shoulder, back, or wrist.

At Orthopaedics of Atlanta and Aesthetic Institute in Smyrna, Georgia, we diagnose your sprain after reviewing your symptoms, the site of the injury, and imaging, like X-rays and MRI.

Once we diagnose a sprain, Dr. W. Joseph Absi grades your sprain’s severity according to the damage that occurred to your connective tissue. Here’s how he determines the grade your sprain receives and what to expect when it comes to treatment and recovery.

Grade 1 sprain

When you’ve stretched the fibers of your ligament, but haven’t significantly torn them, it’s considered a grade 1 sprain. There’s some mild swelling, stiffness, and tenderness at the site of injury. You’re able to use the joint and it feels stable. 

For example, people with a grade 1 ankle sprain can walk with minimal pain.

Treatment usually includes the RICE protocol: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Apply ice for 20-30 minutes at a time up to four times a day as you heal. Avoid using the joint and, as you rest, elevate the joint above the heart. Compression wraps provide support to the injured joint.

With proper care and rest, a grade 1 sprain usually heals in about 2-3 weeks.

Grade 2 sprain

With a grade 2 sprain, your ligament is partially torn. The incomplete tear causes bruising (due to bleeding beneath the skin), swelling, and moderate pain. The joint remains fairly stable, but the affected area is tender to the touch. Joint function may be compromised slightly due to pain.

RICE is appropriate for a grade 2 sprain, too. Dr. Absi may also recommend immobilization of the injured joint with a splint or other device.

This moderate type of sprain usually takes about 4-6 weeks to heal, as long as you’re diligent in following the steps of rest and rehabilitation.

Grade 3 sprain

A grade 3 sprain is most serious. It means that the ligament is completely torn or ruptured.

You experience severe swelling and bruising. The joint probably isn’t functional because it’s too unstable, and movement creates intense pain. If you have a grade 3 sprain in the ankle, for example, walking usually isn’t possible.

Grade 3 sprains often require a brace or cast for at least a couple of weeks. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories can help you control pain, but younger, athletic patients may benefit from surgery to restore full range of motion and function.

A grade 3 sprain can take three months (12 weeks) or longer to heal.

If you suspect you’ve suffered a sprain, get your joint checked out right away by an expert like Dr. Absi of Orthopaedics of Atlanta and Aesthetic Institute. The sooner you start proper care for your injury, the faster you recover and restore full function.

Call today for your appointment or use the online tool to schedule. 

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