Sprains and strains are common injuries affecting muscles and ligaments.
They are most often the result of changing direction or speed suddenly, falling or landing awkwardly or colliding with someone (or something!) while taking part in sport or physical training.
Spraining or straining muscles and joints is
very common and can usually be cared for at home.
Warming up properly before exercise and wearing suitable footwear can help prevent sprains and strains, but they can’t always be avoided.
A sprain is a torn, stretched or twisted ligament, often as a result of excessive force on a joint.
A strain is the stretch or tearing of muscle fibres, usually occurring when the muscle has been stretched too far or been forced to contract (shorten) too quickly.
Most people will be as good as new within 6-8 weeks of a sprain or strain.
A more severe injury can take longer to heal, particularly if it hasn’t been allowed enough time to rest.
If you do experience persistent problems lasting several months or longer, make an appointment with your GP to check up on it.
Symptoms of a sprain include:
Most strains and strains can be treated at home, using techniques such as PRICE therapy, which stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
Here to help
PRICE therapy stands for:
Protection - protect the injured area from further damage by using a support or (in the case of an ankle sprain) wearing shoes that enclose and support your feet.
Rest - rest the injured joint or muscle and avoid activity for the first 48 to 72 hours. For more serious injuries your GP may recommend crutches.
Ice - apply ice (or frozen peas) wrapped in a damp towel to the injured area for 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours during the day for the first 2-3 days.
Compression - compress or bandage the area to limit any swelling and movement that could cause further damage. You can use a simple elastic bandage available from a pharmacy, but don’t wrap it too tightly to restrict blood flow and remove it before you sleep.
Elevation - keep the injured area raised, ideally above heart level, and supported on a pillow to help reduce swelling.
With a sprained joint, you should generally try to move it as soon as it is not painful to do so.
A strained muscle should normally not be moved for at least a few days.
Ordinary painkillers such as paracetamol can be used to ease pain, although stronger medication can be prescribed for more severe pain.
Cheaper painkillers work exactly the same as more expensive versions, so there is no need to waste your money!
While most sprains and strains are relatively minor and can be cared for at home, you should call NHS 111 if you experience any of the following:
If you're concerned about yourself, a relative or friend, call NHS 111 for medical advice, this free service is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
The advisors taking 111 calls are in the same room as those answering 999 calls, so if urgent attention is needed, they can arrange it immediately for you.
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This website was created in 2015 by West Hampshire CCG in order to support local people to manage minor illness and injury.