Degrees and Types of Sprains

There are different degrees and types of sprains. Depending on the way in which the trauma occurs, and the intensity of it, the severity will vary. Find out more in this article.
Degrees and Types of Sprains
Leonardo Biolatto

Written and verified by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

There are basically three degrees and types of sprains, but they all have something in common: they involve a joint. A sprain is a ligament injury, since the main structure affected is a ligament or several ligaments at the same time.

The ligaments in question belong to some joint. It can be a sprained ankle, wrist, knee, shoulder, among others. However, by far the most common is the one that affects the ankle.

Ligaments are made up of fibers that have a certain elasticity. This physiologically-allowed stretching gives mobility to the joints. The problem is that this flexibility isn’t infinite. When the movement exceeds the capacity of the ligament, then injury occurs.

We could say that a sprain is the stretching of a joint ligament beyond its capacity, even with the possibility of a rupture of the ligament. In a certain sense, it’s a dislocation also, since the joint loses its line of stability and the normal form of contact between the bones that form it.

The two groups most affected by sprains are athletes and the elderly. The former because of frequent exposure to exercise-related injuries, and the latter because of the lack of flexibility that comes with age.

Sprain risk factors

Before describing the degrees and types of sprains that exist, it’s important to know the risk factors that predispose people to the injury. Any person can suffer it, but some people are more exposed because of their physical condition or the activities they perform.

The most frequent risk factors are the following:

  • Sports practice: The joints are overstrained in certain sports. Exercise overloads the ligaments and, in the long run, a sprain can occur due to wear and tear. It can also happen in an untimely way by a traumatism during the practice or a bad movement.
  • Age: The older you get, the less flexible you are. Ligaments stiffen as time goes by and joints become stiffer. Of course, this factor is also influenced by the degree of physical activity that the person has done during their life.
  • Overweight: As we have more weight in our body, the joints have to bear a greater load. Even if you aren’t doing an impact sport, an obese body can suffer a sprain walking on flat ground. The joints of the lower limbs are the most affected.
  • Sedentary lifestyle: A lack of physical activity deteriorates the joints. This can lead to injury when trying to perform an exercise we aren’t accustomed to, or when we start practicing a sport suddenly.
A sprained ankle.
Sprains can affect any joint. However, it often occurs in the ankle.

Symptoms of sprains

The primary symptom of a sprain is pain. It hurts the affected joint and the tissues around it. The pain itself can act as a limiting factor in functionality. The sufferer often suffers an inability to move.

Along with pain, there’s swelling in all degrees and types of sprains. The damaged joint increases in size and swelling is yet another component that limits functionality.

A change in coloration is another sign. The stretching of a ligament is accompanied by the rupture of small veins and arteries that surround it. This will give rise to a hematoma on the skin of the joint. The hematoma will vary in color as the days go by, according to the evolution of hemoglobin.

Lastly, there’s a rise in temperature due to inflammation. The soft tissues feel warm around the joint due to the movement of inflammatory cells that migrate towards the region.

A doctor fixing a sprained ankle.
In addition to causing pain, sprains are accompanied by joint swelling, bruising, and an increase in temperature in the affected area.

Discover: Arthroscopy for Joint Injuries

Degrees and types of sprains

As we’ve already mentioned, there are three degrees and types of sprains. Let’s see the characteristics of each one below:

First degree

The ligament is stretched without breaking. It hurts like all sprains, but the pain is bearable. There’s also inflammation, but the functional impotence of the joint may not be so extreme. Normal movements should be possible.

The medical indications in these cases aren’t intensive. The patient needs some rest, but it may just be for a few days. It’s even possible not to prescribe any anti-inflammatory drugs.

Second degree

The ligaments aren’t only stretched in this case, but small ruptures of the ligament fibers appear. The pain is more intense than the first degree and the movements are quite limited.

Treatment involves immobilizing the joint for a period of time with bandages or splints. Doctors usually prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs, local cold treatment, and foot elevation.

Third degree

This is the most severe form of sprain. The ligament is stretched, breaks, and loses contact with one of the bones where it was inserted. It’ll require surgical treatment to repair the injured tissue. In addition, recovery will be slow, with a lot of rehabilitation and rest.

In conclusion

There are different degrees and types of sprain. When practicing a sport of certain intensity we’re more exposed to suffer an injury of this type. It’s important to take the necessary precautions to avoid damaging our ligaments.

If you suffer a sprain it’s important that you visit a traumatologist. They’ll determine the extent of the injury and the best treatment to apply. They may even need to perform a complementary study to diagnose the degree of sprain you’re suffering from.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.