Bug of the Month: Sprains and Strains

Technical Names: Sprains, Soft Tissue Injuries, Musculoskeletal Injuries

NickNames: twisted arm or leg, thrown joint

What it is: a pulling and/or tearing of the soft tissues of a joint, the ligaments, tendons, and muscles. The ankle is the most commonly sprained joint in kids and often sports related.

Typical Ages: Any and all ages.

Etiology: trauma – intentional and nonintentional, usually during play and sports

Seasonal Issues: Any and all seasons – some injuries are more seasonal and sports dependent.


  • pain, swelling, bruising, +/- deformity of affected joint. Varying degrees of difficulty using. The more symptoms, the more severe the sprain


  • Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation (RICE) for all injuries with swelling and bruising
  • ibuprofen for pain and swelling
  • no sports until pain free – this is particularly important for injuries with limitation of movement after the injury

Prevention: While many sports related injuries are hard to avoid, the chances of an injury are reduced if kids are conditioned properly for the sport, playing at an age-appropriate level, and rest for the recommended amount of time by a physician after an injury.

Return to School and Sports:

  • 1-3 weeks, sometimes less and sometimes more. Very dependent on initial limitation of motion.
  • Child needs to be able to use sprained joint normally and without pain before returning to sports

When to call the doctor:

  • inability to use arm or bear weight
  • extreme pain
  • pain and function not improving with RICE and ibuprofen
  • deformity or significant bruising
  • any neurologic symptoms of the extremity: numbness, tingling, etc.

Internet Resources:

AAP: What is a sprain?

KidsHealth Sprain Care Sheet

For Teens: Handling Sports Injuries

Children’s Hospital Boston Ankle Sprain Care