Sprains and Strains

Pain is the most common symptom of both sprains and strains. The intensity of pain will vary depending on the severity of the injury. Other symptoms include swelling, bruising and the inability to move the injured joint. Treatment for sprains and strains includes efforts to reduce pain and swelling and restoring function to the injured area (rehabilitation).

Initial treatment should occur as soon as possible. Experts recommend rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) for care of sprains and strains during the first 24-48 hours. Following these steps should decrease swelling and ease your discomfort.

  • Rest: Avoid activities that cause pain or discomfort and swelling.
  • Ice: Icing an injury will prevent further swelling and ease spasms.
  • Compression: Reduce swelling by compressing the injured area with an elastic bandage.
  • Elevation: Elevating the injured body part also will help reduce swelling.

You may also want to take an over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin or others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol or others) to manage pain.

Individuals with a mild strain or sprain should see a gradual improvement in two to four days. If swelling, pain or joint instability continues, you may have a more severe injury that requires additional treatment and you should see a physician.

Prevention

A strain or sprain can happen to anyone but here are some tips to help reduce your risk of injury:

  • Avoid exercising or playing sports when tired or in pain.
  • Maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet to keep muscles strong.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Practice safety measures to prevent falls. For example, keep stairways, walkways, yards, and driveways free of clutter; anchor rugs.
  • Wear shoes that fit properly.
  • Replace athletic shoes as soon as the tread wears out or the heel wears down on one side.
  • Do stretching exercises daily.
  • Be in proper physical condition to play a sport.
  • Warm up and stretch before participating in any sport or exercise.
  • Wear protective equipment when playing.
  • Run on even surfaces.