Signs and Symptoms of a Sprain
usual signs and symptoms include pain, swelling,
bruising, instability, and loss of the ability to move
and use the joint (called functional ability). However,
these signs and symptoms can vary in intensity,
depending on the severity of the sprain. Sometimes
people feel a pop or tear when the injury happens.
observe an injured site and ask questions to obtain
information to diagnose the severity of a sprain. In
general, a grade I or mild sprain is caused by
overstretching or slight tearing of the ligaments with
no joint instability. A person with a mild sprain
usually experiences minimal pain, swelling, and little
or no loss of functional ability. Bruising is absent or
slight, and the person is usually able to put weight on
the affected joint.
You have severe pain and cannot put any
weight on the injured joint.
The injured area looks crooked or has lumps
and bumps (other than swelling) that you do
not see on the uninjured joint.
You cannot move the injured joint.
You cannot walk more than four steps without
Your limb buckles or gives way when you try
to use the joint.
You have numbness in any part of the injured
You see redness or red streaks spreading out
from the injury.
You injure an area that has been injured
several times before.
You have pain, swelling, or redness over a
bony part of your foot.
You are in doubt about the seriousness of
the injury or how to care for it.
A grade II or
moderate sprain is caused by further, but still
incomplete, tearing of the ligament and is characterized
by bruising, moderate pain, and swelling. A person with
a moderate sprain usually has more difficulty putting
weight on the affected joint and experiences some loss
of function. An x ray may be needed to help the health
care provider determine if a fracture is causing the
pain and swelling. Magnetic resonance imaging is
occasionally used to help differentiate between a
significant partial injury and a complete tear in a
ligament, or can be recommended to rule out other
People who sustain a
grade III or severe sprain completely tear or rupture a
ligament. Pain, swelling, and bruising are usually
severe, and the patient is unable to put weight on the
joint. An x ray is usually taken to rule out a broken
bone. When diagnosing any sprain, the provider will ask
the patient to explain how the injury happened. He or
she will examine the affected area and check its
stability and its ability to move and bear weight.
Source: Adapted from National
Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Part 1: Treatment for sprains and strains
Part 2: Difference between sprains and strains
Part 3: Signs and symptoms of a sprain
Part 4: How to prevent sprains and strains