At the risk of stating the obvious, all sprains are different. Sprains are generally categorized into three grades – or degrees – based on severity. The grades of sprain go from one to three, with grade one sprains being the least serious and three being the most serious.
The grade or degree of sprain indicates how badly stretched or torn the ligaments are as a result of injury. A ligament is a band of flexible connective tissue that hold a joint together while allowing it to move. Ligaments are distinct from tendons, which are the connective tissues that adhere muscles and bones together. Sprains are their own class of injury, defined as a stretching or tearing of ligaments.
Different Treatments for Different Sprains
Each of the three grades of sprains has its own requirements for treatment. Due to the complexity of the joints, however, self-diagnosis and treatment isn’t recommended. This is the case even for apparently minor injuries. The RICE method of caring for the sprain is generally considered the most effective immediate and medium-term treatment. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Each has a part to play in alleviating a sprains symptoms. The purpose of RICE is primarily to prevent swelling, thus preventing the discomfort as well as facilitating healing.
Grade 1 Sprain
Grade 1 sprains are the least serious of the three sprains. In these sprains, the ligament has been stressed but not extensively damaged. These sprains definitely hurt, but they rarely result in complications. Between RICE and an extended rest, it doesn’t take a grade one sprain long to heal.
It’s very easy to get a mild sprain. A twist, a bump, or a bend in the wrong direction can result in a little lingering soreness. A twisted ankle that’s sore but you can still walk on. Tweaking a wrist catching a fall or regaining your balance is also a prime example.
Grade 2 Sprain
Second degree sprains are the middle ground of sprains. While they are unlikely to cause permanent problems, they are much more painful and could require significantly more care. In a grade two sprain, the ligaments have been stretched to the point of tearing, but only partially.
Though the recovery times of sprains vary among individuals, a grade two sprain usually heals in two to four weeks with adequate care, though it could take longer depending on a number of factors. It’s important to give the joint lots of rest and to not resume normal activity until it has fully recovered. Again, it’s a good idea to follow the RICE method immediately after the injury.
Grade 3 Sprain
This category of sprain is the result of more extensive damage. This degree of sprain indicates a large tear or a complete rupture of one or more ligaments. Completely using the use of the injury joint is typical for this injury, and the pain can be overwhelming. It’s good to know, however, that these sprains are very uncommon except when extreme forces are applied to joints. They are most common among athletes. Athletes affected by this injury can lose months or years of playing time while waiting to recover.
Surgery is often required to fully repair a grade 3 sprain. Even with surgery and physiotherapy, these sprains can take months to heal. Even with time and rest, a grade three sprain may linger as a permanent or semi-permanent injury requiring long-term care.