How to treat your own strain or sprain
Home Treatment for Strains and
Swift and correct treatment of strains and sprains is of great
importance if one is to ensure a quick recovery and minimise any
lasting problems. Applying appropriate treatment to such injuries is
fairly simple, but without the correct knowledge it is easy to do more
harm than good. Ideally, an acute injury should be seen as soon as
possible by a medical practitioner. However, there is unlikely to be
one around when the injury occurs, and in the case of a minor injury
people often choose not to see one. This page describes how to treat
strains and sprains immediately and during the following days. Bear in
mind, however, that although these are the most common of injuries,
there can be no guarantee that your injury is a strain or sprain
without consulting a medical professional.
Strains are the result of tearing of the fibres of a muscle or tendon.
They are the most common type of acute injury, caused by
over-stretching or impact. Symptoms are bleeding, swelling, pain,
dysfunction, heat and redness.
Sprains are the result of a tear
in a ligament that supports a joint,
caused by a joint being forced beyond its normal range of movement.
Symptoms are usually more severe than those of strains. There is
considerable swelling and bruising, and much more pain and dysfunction
with any attempt to put movement or pressure through the joint. Strains
and sprains can be dealt with using the following methods:
The RICE procedure should be
followed for the first 24-48 hours after
the injury, depending on the severity. RICE stands for:
It is important to get as
much rest as possible in the early
stages in order to allow the body to heal. Avoid the temptation to move
the injured part in order to see if it still hurts.
Ice should be applied
directly to the injury site as soon as
possible, as it reduces bleeding and swelling by slowing down blood
circulation, and also relaxes the area by reducing pain. Ice or cold
packs are cheap and effective. Cold sprays are only worth using if
nothing better is available. Ice should be wrapped in a wet cloth to
prevent skin burns. Cold should be applied only for limited periods of
time (as little as 5 minutes for a small area like the wrist, up to 20
minutes for a large area like the thigh), as too long an application
will cause the body to compensate by pumping more blood into the area.
When the ice is removed, the skin should look pale. If the skin is red
it means that the ice has been applied for too long. Ice can be
re-applied once body temperature has returned to normal.
Compression should be
applied to the injury as soon as
possible in order to reduce bleeding. It is best applied using a firm
pad over the injury site, with a strapping around it to hold it in
place. Ideally compression should not be applied round a whole limb,
and certainly not so tightly as to starve other areas of blood.
Elevation of the injured
area should be practised as much as
possible in order to help with the removal of swelling from the area
through gravity. An arm or leg should be comfortably supported at a
level above the torso.
Professional massage at this stage, while not strictly necessary, may
help to bring down the swelling.
Once signs of inflammation have
gone, and heat and redness are much
reduced, the MICE procedure should be followed until the injury is
healed. MICE stands for: Mobilisation Ice Compression Elevation
You can begin by taking the
injured part through its full
range of movement, avoiding any movements that cause pain. This will
prevent wasting of the muscles through lack of use. Once it can be done
easily (it could be days before this is the case, so be patient) you
should gradually try to increase the range of movement. Then once basic
function of the injured part has been restored, it can begin to
undertake more exercise. It will take time for the injury to get back
to normal strength, so only light, simple exercise should be used at
first, gradually building up. If pain is experienced at any time during
exercise, it should immediately be stopped. If the pain disappears
after 20-30 seconds, the exercise can be continued with caution. If the
pain persists, however, then the injured part should be rested
immediately for 24 hours, following the RICE procedure, after which
exercise can be resumed at an easier level.
Treatment with ice should
about a week, depending on the severity of the injury. After roughly
4-5 days, heat treatment such as hot pads can be applied, provided that
inflammation has stopped. This helps the injury by stimulating
circulation and thus oxygenating and nourishing the area. Alternating
between hot and cold treatments for a minute at a time can also be
This should be
continued for a
few days, then gradually reduced to no more than a support bandage as
the condition improves.
This should be
done as often as
possible until all signs of swelling, heat and redness have
For treatment plans specific to each injury, the book "Sports Injuries"
by Malcolm Read and Paul Wade is highly recommended. Once swelling,
heat and redness have disappeared, professional massage is important in
order to speed up the healing process, and to make sure that lasting
symptoms are kept to a minimum.