Strains and Sprains

Strains and Sprains

About Strains & Sprains

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.


  • Pain in affected muscle
  • pain around affected joint
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Swelling
  • Loss of some muscle function
  • Being unable to put weight on joint
  • Blood collecting under skin - looks like dark-red bruise

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, comfortable support and elevation (RICE). Here's what St John Ambulance advises:

R: Rest the injured part. Sit or lie down and support the injured part in a comfortable position, raised if possible.

I: Apply an Ice pack. Try and cool the area by putting an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a tea towel against the injury. This can help to reduce the swelling, pain and bruising.

C: Provide Comfortable support. Leave the ice pack in place or wrap a layer of soft padding around the area, such as cotton wool. Secure the ice pack or soft padding with a conforming bandage that covers the area to the next joint, but make sure it's not too tight by checking circulation every 10 minutes. To do this, press a nail or skin beyond the injured area for five seconds until it goes pale. If the colour doesn't come back within 2 seconds, loosen and reapply the bandage.

E: Elevate the injured part. Support the injury in an elevated position to help minimise swelling and bruising. You could do this by placing pillows underneath the injured part.

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.