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Sprains and Strains

Sprains & Strains

Strains and sprains are common injuries that affect muscles and ligaments (the bands of tissue around joints that connect one bone to another). A strain refers to a stretch or tear in the muscle fibres. A sprain is where one or more of your ligaments have been stretched, twisted of torn.

Symptoms

Strains

  • Pain in affected muscle
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Muscle spasms
  • Loss of some muscle function
  • Blood collecting under skin - looks like dark-red bruise

Sprains

What causes strains and sprains?

A strain occurs when a muscle has been stretched beyond its limits causing the fibres to stretch or tear. This is usually as a result of an accident or during exercise. Common strains include pulling a hamstring or calf muscle.

A sprain occurs when one or more ligament is twisted, stretched or torn as a result of too much force being applied to the joint. Common places for sprains include ankles, wrists, the knee or the thumb. Sprains can be caused by turning too quickly during sport, or running on an uneven surface, or as a result of a fall.

How are strains and sprains treated?

Most strains and sprains can be treated at home through rest, ice, compression and elevation. Immediately after straining or spraining a joint you should protect the area from further injury for example by wearing an ankle support. You should then rest the area for the first 48-72 hours and during this time apply ice (wrapped in a towel). You can do this every two to three hours applying the ice pack for 15-20 minutes at a time. To limit swelling you should compress or bandage the injured area by wrapping the bandage snuggly to the affected part. Remove the bandage before going to sleep. Keeping the injured area elevated will also reduce swelling.

  • To treat the pain you can use painkillers such as paracetamol or oral non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen which can help reduce swelling.
  • If regular painkillers are not sufficient a doctor can prescribe something stronger such as codeine. Your GP may also prescribe an ibuprofen or ketoprofen gel to help with inflammation.
  • For the first 72 hours after an injury avoid taking hot baths or applying heat that might exacerbate the swelling, don’t exercise or put strain on the area and avoid alcohol.
  • If the problem persists you may need a referral to a physiotherapist who can teach you exercises to help your strengthen the joint.
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