Muscle Sprain

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What is a muscle sprain?

A muscle sprain occurs when there is an injury such as a stretch or tear to a ligament. Ligaments are tough, band-like structures that connect 2 or more bones to a joint

Muscle sprains most commonly affect the ankles, but can also occur in the wrists, thumbs, and knees. 

Symptoms of muscle sprain include:

  • pain
  • bruising
  • swelling
  • inability to move the affected joint
  • sometimes a popping sound when the injury occurred

There are 3 types of muscle sprain, based on how severe they are and how badly the joint is affected. 

A Grade 1 (mild) muscle sprain involves mild stretching of the ligament with few torn fibres and no joint instability.

A Grade II (moderate) muscle sprain involves a partial tear of the ligament with mild or no joint instability.

A Grade III (severe) muscle sprain occurs when the ligament is completely torn, and the joint is unstable.

How do you get a muscle sprain?

Muscle sprains normally occur during activity when abnormal movement stretches or twists the ligament causing them to stretch or tear. They commonly occur during sport, or when landing awkwardly during a fall.

What is the difference between a sprain and a strain?

While muscle sprain is damage to the ligament, muscle strain occurs when there is overstretching or tearing of the muscles or tendons (the fibrous tissues that connect muscles to bones). Symptoms of sprains and strains are similar and the treatment for both is usually the same.

How to get rid of muscle sprain

You can treat most muscle sprains yourself at home. 

Treatment is known as RICE therapy which consists of the following 4 steps: 

Rest —avoid using the joint for 48 to 72 hours following the injury

Ice —apply an ice pack as soon as possible after the injury and for around 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours for the next 2 to 3 days. You can use a bag of frozen vegetables or make an ice pack by wrapping ice in a cloth or tea towel. Never apply ice directly to the skin. 

Compression —support the joint by wrapping an elastic or compression bandage around it. Apply the bandage with mild pressure, so that it supports the joint, but not so tightly that it restricts blood flow. 

Elevate —keep the affected joint raised on a pillow as much as possible. 

Other things you can do to help your sprain heal include: 

  • help prevent further swelling by avoiding heat (such as hot baths or heat packs), alcohol, and massages for a few days after the injury 
  • when you are able to move the joint without pain, move it frequently to prevent muscle stiffness
  • avoid strenuous exercise involving the affected part of the body for around 8 weeks after the injury to prevent further damage 
  • take over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol, or ibuprofen, or apply topical gels and creams. Your pharmacist can recommend a suitable medication for you. 


Most muscle sprains will feel better after a couple of weeks, but severe sprains may take several months to heal fully. If your muscle sprain is severe, not getting better with home treatment, or has caused damage to your joint, your GP may recommend further treatments. These may include physiotherapy, a short leg cast, or walking boot, or rarely, surgery to tighten the ligament. 


Make an appointment to see a doctor if: 

  • your injury isn’t getting better after about a week of treating it yourself at home
  • your pain and swelling are getting worse


Call an ambulance or go to hospital immediately if: 

  • you heard a snap or crack at the time of your injury
  • your injured body part is a strange shape, or at an odd angle
  • your injured body part is numb (you can’t feel it), has changed colour, or is cold to the touch

These may be signs of a broken bone and require an X-ray.

Get help from an online doctor

If you think you have a muscle sprain, an online doctor can assess your symptoms and provide advice and support, without you having to leave your home. 

Our NHS-trained GPs can examine your injury via video consultation, and make a diagnosis based on how the injury occurred, and your symptoms. They can then give advice about how to manage your injury, prescribe medications to help with pain and swelling, and recommend further investigations and treatments if necessary. 

Making an online video appointment is quick and easy at Medicspot. Simply click the link, choose a time and day that suits you, and have your consultation via video link from your phone wherever you are. 

Appointments are available Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 9 pm

Get help from a pharmacist

Pharmacists can help recommend the best treatments for you, based on your symptoms, general health, and factors like your past medical history, any allergies you have, or other medications you are taking. 

Find a Pharmacy Near You 


Muscle sprains are a common injury that can normally be treated at home but sometimes need further treatment. If you think you have a muscle sprain and would like to speak to a doctor, make an online GP appointment today



NHS: Sprains and strains February 10th 2021 (Accessed October 14th 2022) 

Medline Plus: Sprains and Strains January 3rd 2017 (Accessed October 14th 2022)

 Patient: Sprains and Strains March 1st 2018 (Accessed October 14th 2022)

FootCare MD: How to  care for a sprained ankle  2022 (Accessed October 14th 2022)

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