Sprains in Toddlers

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Your accident-prone toddler probably has a new bruise or scratch every day, but a sprain is not a common injury at this age. Your toddler is more likely to break a bone -- ends of the bones are soft until your child is full grown. If your toddler has severe pain following an injury, seek emergency medical attention.


Symptoms of a sprain vary in severity. A mild sprain causes some discomfort, and your toddler may have some difficulty using the affected joint. A severe sprain is difficult to distinguish from fractured bone. If your toddler has a severe sprain, he is unable to use the ligament affected by the injury due to the significance of the pain and stiffness of the joint. Sprains may have bruising or swelling present, and the injured site is tender if touched. The pain from a sprain immediately occurs during the event that caused your toddler’s injury.


Sprains are a ligament injury. A sprain is caused by a joint being forced from its natural position which stretches or tears the ligaments that connect your toddler’s bones. Toddlers think it’s fun to jump off furniture, chase butterflies, wear moms high-heel shoes, run fast, kick balls and stand on their teenage brother’s skateboard. Toddlers lack coordination to perform these activities safely. The most common areas sprained are ankles, knees, wrists and elbows.


Apply an ice pack to the affected joint as soon as possible to reduce swelling. Do not place the ice pack directly on your toddler’s skin. Ice the area for 15 minutes every few hours for the first 48 hours. Use an elastic compression bandage to wrap the sprained area firmly, but not too tight. Circulation should flow freely and comfortably to the injured area. If the skin becomes discolored after wrapping the injury, loosen the bandage. Elevate the injury above heart level and administer ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Never give a toddler aspirin since aspirin increases your child’s risk of Reye’s syndrome, which is potentially fatal. Do not apply heat during the first 48 hours since this increases swelling and pain. Surgery may be necessary for severe sprains.


Toddlers are always testing their abilities, so they need constant supervision. Always be sure your child wears appropriately sized footwear by having your child’s feet measured. Shoes should be comfortable, supportive and skid-proof. Shoes with adhesive straps prevent injuries from shoes that come untied. Encourage your toddler to stretch all major muscle groups before physical activities. Observe your child’s play area and ensure there are no rocks, holes, sticks or other objects that could cause a fall.