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Health Services

Sprains and Strains

EphNotes

Common causes for sprains and strains are falls, twisting an arm or leg, sports injuries and over-exertion. Both sprains and strains result in pain and swelling. The amount of pain and swelling depends on the extent of damage.

SPRAIN: Results from overstretching or tearing a ligament, tendon, or muscle. Ligaments are fibrous tissue that connects bones. Tendons are tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone.

STRAIN: Occurs when a muscle or tendon is overstretched or over-exerted.

Common sense can prevent many sprains and strains. General safety measures to prevent slips and falls include proper lighting, handrails on both sides of stairways, keeping stairways and traffic areas clear of clutter ad using adhesive-backed strips in bath and shower.

Many sprains and strains result from sports injuries. Be sure to wear proper fitting shoes that provide shock absorption and stability. Wear shoes designed for the sports activity you are doing. Don’t overdo it. If muscles or joints start to hurt, ease up. Do warm-up exercises to stretch the muscles before your activity whether vigorous or not. Always ease into any exercise program and go through a cool down period afterward.

TREATMENT:

Depends on the extent of the damage. Self-help measures may be all that are needed for mild injuries. At the first sign of a sprain or strain, stop what you’re doing and apply RICE — Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. By following this simple formula, you can avoid further injury and speed recovery.

  • REST the injured area.
  • ICE or cold packs should be applied immediately. Do this for up to 48 to 72 hours after the injury. After 48-72 hours, applying heat may bring additional relief.
  • COMPRESS the area by wrapping it (not too tightly) with an elastic wrap. Begin wrapping from the point farthest from the heart and wrap toward the center of the body. Loosen the bandage if it gets too tight.
  • ELEVATE the injured area higher than the heart. Do this even while you are applying the ice or cold pack as well as when you sleep.
  • You may take ibuprofen for pain and inflammation if you don’t have a sensitivity to the medicine or a history of ulcers. Read and follow directions carefully. Not all people should take these medicines. Always take with food or milk to prevent stomach irritation.
  • Remove rings immediately if you have a sprained finger or other part of your hand.
  • Use crutches to speed the healing process for a badly sprained ankle. They will help you avoid putting weight on the ankle, which could cause further damage.

Severe sprains may require medical treatment. Some require a cast. Others may need surgery if the tissue affected is torn. See your health care professional if the sprain or strain does not improve after four days of self-care procedures.

Information provided by University of Missouri-Rolla Health Center

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