For immediate self-care of a sprain or strain, try the R.I.C.E. approach — rest, ice, compression, elevation. In most cases beyond a minor strain or sprain, you'll want your doctor and physical therapist to help you with this process:
- Rest. Avoid activities that cause pain or swelling, but don't avoid all physical activity. If it hurts to bear weight on a sprained ankle, for example, you can peddle an exercise bicycle with one leg while resting the injured ankle on a footrest peg.
- Ice. Immediately place an ice pack on the injury. Keep the area iced for 15 to 20 minutes, and repeat several times a day for the first few days. Cold reduces pain, swelling and, possibly, bleeding. If the area turns white, stop treatment immediately. If you have vascular disease, diabetes or decreased sensation, talk with your doctor before applying ice.
- Compression. To help stop swelling, compress the area with an elastic bandage until the swelling stops. Don't wrap the bandage too tightly or it may reduce circulation. Begin wrapping at the end farthest from your heart. Loosen the wrap if the pain increases, the area becomes numb or swelling is occurring below the wrapped area.
- Elevation. To reduce swelling, elevate the injured area above the level of your heart, especially at night. Gravity helps reduce swelling by draining excess fluid.
Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) also can be helpful.
After the first two days, gently begin to use the injured area. You should see a gradual, progressive improvement in the joint's ability to support your weight or your ability to move without pain. Mild and moderate sprains usually heal in three to six weeks. A physical therapist can help you to maximize stability and strength of the injured joint or limb.
Oct. 25, 2011
- Sprains and strains. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Sprains_Strains/default.asp. Accessed Aug. 17, 2011.
- Geiderman JM. General principles of orthopedic injuries. In: Marx JA, et al. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?about=true&eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-323-05472-0..X0001-1--TOP&isbn=978-0-323-05472-0&uniqId=230100505-57. Accessed Aug. 17, 2011.
- Sprains and strains: What's the difference? American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00111. Accessed Aug. 17, 2011.
- El Abd O. Low back strain or sprain. In: Frontera WR, et al. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Musculoskeletal Disorders, Pain, and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2008. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/208746819-6/0/1678/0.html. Accessed Aug. 17, 2011.