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Sprains and strains

Expert treatment for sprains and muscle strains

Many of us know how painful a sprained ankle can be. Pain from sprains and strains can range from a small ache to pain that makes it hard to move. After an injury, the right treatment plan can help put you in control of your recovery.

At TRIA, our team of experts is ready to help after you experience a sprain or strain from an injury or overuse. With our sports medicine doctors who help athletes get back in the game, and physical therapists who create personalized rehabilitation plans, we work with patients of all ages and physical abilities. And when you need care right away, we have multiple orthopedic urgent care locations across the Twin Cities where you can walk right in for treatment, without an appointment.

Types of sprains and strains we treat

Sprains and strains are injuries caused when our tendons or muscles are overstretched or torn. A sprain is an injury to a ligament, which is the tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint. A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon, which is the tissue that connects muscles to bones.

Sprains and strains fall into three groups based on how severe they are:

  • Grade 1 – This is a mild injury. You may have slight tenderness, swelling and minor loss of range of motion in the injured area. There is no loss of stability with this type of injury.
  • Grade 2 – This is a moderate injury. You may have bruising, noticeable swelling, moderate loss of range of motion and some weakness in the injured area.
  • Grade 3 – This is a severe injury. You may have significant bruising, swelling, instability, loss of range of motion and noticeable weakness in the injured area.

When to see a doctor for a sprain or strain

It can be difficult to know how severe your sprain or strain is without help from a doctor. We recommend talking with one of our doctors or visiting orthopedic urgent care after an injury.

We’ll examine your injury and start you on a personalized treatment plan to help you heal as quickly as possible. In most cases, sprains and strains can be treated with options like medications, braces and physical therapy.

Once you start your treatment plan, our team of orthopedists, physical therapists, sports medicine doctors and other specialists will help you throughout your recovery.

Treatment for sprains and strains

Whether your injury is mild or severe, we’ll work with you to create a personalized treatment program that helps you feel better as quickly as possible. Common treatments include:


When your tissue is stretched or torn, it can cause inflammation in the injured area. When tissue is inflamed, the nerve fibers inside carry pain signals to the brain. Anti-inflammatory medications can be used to reduce the inflammation near your injury, helping to manage the pain.

In many cases, over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen are enough to reduce pain caused by a sprain or strain. When needed, we’ll prescribe stronger anti-inflammatory medications to help keep you comfortable while you recover.

Braces and supports

Resting your muscles and ligaments can help them heal. Orthotics like braces and supports can help by limiting movement or taking pressure off the injured tissue. Depending on your injury, we might recommend wearing an orthotic all day or just during certain activities.

Knee braces, walking boots, slings and wrist splints are all commonly used to treat sprains and strains. And if your injury makes walking a challenge, we might recommend crutches to add stability and support.

Our board-certified orthotists can custom fit braces and other orthotics to ensure a comfortable, ideal fit.

Physical therapy

When you’ve been in cast or orthotic, your muscles become weaker and less flexible and you may need help getting your strength back after you’ve healed. The first step is usually to build flexibility before strength. Physical therapy is a type of treatment that uses targeted exercises and education to improve function and mobility after an injury.

During your appointment, one of our physical therapists will guide you through a personalized exercise program. Typically, our patients have physical therapy appointments two or three times a week. In most cases, we’ll also recommend exercises to do at home so you can continue to build your flexibility and strength between appointments.

Specialty programs for sprains and strains

We know athletes. Our expert team of sports medicine doctors can help athletes of any age, skill or ability recover and get back in the game.

Our Women’s Sports Medicine Program brings together experts who provide innovative, personalized care for active and athletic women of all ages and abilities.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Sprains and strains are injuries caused by pulling or tearing tissue in the body. The only difference between them is the kind of tissue injured.

A sprain is when a ligament (the tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint) gets injured. A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon, which is the tissue that connects our muscles to our bones.

Good guidelines for self-care of sprains and strains is rest, ice, compression and elevation – or R.I.C.E.

  • Rest the injured area to give it time to recover. Do your best to avoid strenuous activities until you’re healed.
  • Ice the affected area a few times a day for twenty minutes. Wrap an ice pack, a bag of frozen vegetables or ice in a towel so the cold item isn’t directly against your skin.
  • Compression can help reduce swelling. Wrap the affected area with an elastic bandage.
  • Elevation can also reduce swelling. Keep the injured part of your body at or above the level of your heart while sitting or lying down.

The amount of time it takes your injury to recover depends on your symptoms and lifestyle, but most people see a significant improvement in two weeks. More severe sprains and strains can take a couple months to fully heal, and sometimes longer to fully return to a higher-intensity activity, like competitive sports.

If your condition is not improving after a week, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with one of our doctors or visit orthopedic urgent care.

We accept most health insurance plans, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, CIGNA, HealthPartners, Medica, Medicare, Medicare Advantage, PreferredOne and many others.

You can check with your insurance to see if your plan covers part or all of the services needed. Call the number on the back of your card for help looking at your options.

Don’t have your card in front of you? Here are member services numbers to help you get started: