Sprains and Strains
Sprains and strains are very common injuries that affect muscles and ligaments.They often occur when playing sports if you change direction or speed suddenly, fall and land awkwardly, or collide with an object or person.
A sprain occurs when one or more ligaments have been stretched, twisted or torn, usually as a result of excessive force being applied to a joint. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue around joints that connect bones to one another.
Common locations for sprains include the knees, ankles, wrists and thumbs. Symptoms of a sprain can include:
- Pain around the affected joint
- Inability to use the joint normally or put weight on it
- Swelling, bruising and tenderness
There may be swelling soon after the injury but the bruising may not show until later or it may not show at all.
Bruising sometimes develops away from the affected joint, as blood seeps along the muscles before surfacing to the skin.
A strain occurs when muscle fibers stretch or tear. It’s usually the result of the muscle being stretched beyond its limits or forced to contract (shorten) too quickly.
Muscle strains are particularly common in the legs and back, such as hamstring strains and lumbar (lower back) strains.
Symptoms of a muscle strain can include:
- Swelling, bruising or redness
- Pain in the affected muscle at rest
- Pain in the muscle or associated joint during use
- Muscle spasms (when the muscles contract tightly and painfully)
- Weakness and loss of some, or all, of the function in the affected muscle
How sprains and strains are treated
Minor sprains and strains can usually be treated with self care techniques, such as PRICE therapy (protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation).
PRICE stands for:
- Protection – protect the affected area from further injury by using a support or, in the case of an ankle injury, wearing shoes that enclose and support your feet, such as lace-ups.
- Rest – stop the activity that caused the injury and rest the affected joint or muscle. Avoid activity for the first 48 to 72 hours after injuring yourself. Your GP may recommend you use crutches.
- Ice – for the first 48 to 72 hours after the injury; apply ice wrapped in a damp towel to the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes every two to three hours during the day. Don’t leave the ice on while you’re asleep, and don’t allow the ice to touch your skin directly because it could cause a cold burn.
- Compression – compress or bandage the injured area to limit any swelling and movement that could damage it further. You can use a simple elastic bandage or an elasticated tubular bandage available from a pharmacy. It should be wrapped snuggly around the affected area, but not so tightly that it restricts blood flow. Remove the bandage before you go to sleep.
- Elevation – keep the injured area raised and supported on a pillow to help reduce swelling. If your leg is injured, avoid long periods of time where your leg isn’t raised.