A sprain is an injury that happens when one or more ligaments are stretched or torn. The severity of the injury will depend on the number of ligaments involved and whether the tear is partial or complete. In many cases, sprains do not require surgery and can be treated with a combination of rest, cryotherapy, compression, and elevation.
Common Sports Sprains
Although sprains can happen to anybody—rolling an ankle, for example—they are mostly found in athletes. Some of the common sports strains occur in the ankle, knee, and wrist.
One study found that ankle sprains are the most frequent injury among high school athletes and that they occur across all types of sports. If you participate in sports, this is probably no surprise, because it is rare to find an athlete who has not had this injury at least once or twice. An ankle sprain can happen as a result of contact with another person or contact with the playing surface. The same study found that the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL) is most frequently involved in a sprain and at a much higher rate than any other ankle ligament.
There are four ligaments in the knee that can be sprained—the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), and lateral collateral ligament (LCL). Soccer, basketball, lacrosse, field hockey, and football players are at higher risk for a knee sprain, because these sports involve weight-bearing while bending or twisting. Additional potential causes of a knee sprain include impact on the knee, abruptly stopping or changing direction, and hyperextension of the joint.
Wrist sprains are often caused by an impact with the playing surface when an athlete dives or falls to the ground, stretching or tearing the ligaments that connect the hand to the forearm. This type of injury is most common among athletes who participate in basketball, gymnastics, and baseball. Divers, skiers, and skaters are also at higher risk for a wrist sprain.
Benefits of Sports Cryotherapy for Sprains
What should you do when you think you have a sprain? The answer is, it depends. If you’re concerned that the injury could be something worse, always consult a physician to confirm that you only have a sprain. If sprain treatment is in order, ask your doctor or physical therapist about cryotherapy.
Cryotherapy is the use of therapeutic cold to treat injuries like sprains, strains, contusions, etc. Although you could just apply ice packs or soak in an ice bath, your trainer or physical therapist will have access to a cryotherapy device that applies therapeutic cold and active compression at the same time. Some of the benefits of this type of treatment may include the potential to reduce or eliminate medication, and a faster recovery.
In many cases, cryotherapy provides pain relief sufficient enough that athletes find that they may be able to take less pain medication or even none at all. The application of cold temporarily numbs the injured area and slows down nerve impulses to reduce the sensation of pain. Taking less medication may help you to avoid unwanted side effects and reduce the risk of addiction to prescription pain medication.
The combination of therapeutic cold and active compression has been shown to reduce recovery time after an injury or surgery. Therapeutic cold helps slow down cellular metabolism and cell death, which means the body has to repair and replace fewer cells. Active compression pumps away excess fluid and brings fresh oxygen and nutrients to promote faster healing. This is especially important for athletes who want to return to normal activity faster.
If you’re an athlete, ask your trainer about cryotherapy next time you suffer a sprain or any other type of injury that causes pain and inflammation. You can also download our free guide to contrast therapy versus cryotherapy to learn more about which type of treatment makes the most sense for your injury.