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First Aid for Sprains: Your Guide to Treating Sprains and Strains

Sprains are a pain. But they are a pain you can manage. 

If you have extreme pain or numbness, you should see a doctor immediately. But, for the most part, you can treat a sprain or muscle strain in the comfort of your home. In fact, the best way to treat a sprained muscle is to just lie in bed. 

Here is a quick guide to first aid for sprains. 

The Anatomy of a Sprain

Your ligaments are tissues that connect bones at your joints. A sprain is a stretched or torn ligament. Sprains usually occur at the ankle or wrist, but you can sprain other ligaments. 

Your tendons are tissues that connect muscles to bones. A strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon. 

Symptoms of a sprain include pain, swelling, and bruising, while symptoms of a strain include pain, muscle spasms, and difficulty moving. You can get a sprain or strain during any activity, but they occur most often during exercise. 

RICE: The System of First Aid for Sprains

As soon as you have a sprain or strain, your first priority should be to reduce swelling. Swelling applies pressure to your damaged nerves, adding to your pain and tearing your torn ligaments or muscles more. 

The RICE system manages swelling. It can be broken down into four activities. 

Rest the injured area. Use a sling for an arm injury, crutches for a leg or foot, and a splint for a finger or toe. Do not move the area. 

Ice the area for twenty minutes every hour. Never apply ice directly to your skin. Fill a plastic bag with ice and wrap the bag in a towel. 

Compress the area. Wrap an elastic bandage or sleeve lightly around your joint or limb. If you have swelling, put specialized braces onto your injured joint.

Elevate the area above the heart if possible. Let blood flow away from the injured area to other parts of your body. 

Continue these steps for a day or two until swelling and bruising reduce.

Reduce Blood Flow to the Area

A bruise is bleeding underneath your skin. Tiny blood vessels break, and blood pools around your joints and muscles. Bruises do not cause major health effects in most people, but they can add to swelling or inflammation in your sprain. 

To allow your muscles and vessels to heal, you need to reduce blood flow to the area. 

Do not apply hot objects to your sprain. Apply ice when appropriate, and remove blankets from the sprained area. 

Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol can increase bleeding and swelling while slowing down the healing process. Remain hydrated and drink water with electrolytes. 

Do not exercise. Lie down and stay still. If you have to move, move your injured area as little as possible, with the help of slings, crutches, and splints. 

Do not massage the area. Massages can break blood vessels, prompting further bruising and swelling. Avoid pressure to your injury for three days, and only massage your injury gently after that point. 

When in Doubt, Get Help

Sprains and strains are painful, but you can manage them at home. First aid for sprains is easy. Rest, ice, and compress and elevate your injury, and your symptoms will resolve in a few days. 

If you believe you have fractured a bone, or if your pain is extreme, contact a medical professional immediately. Walk into our urgent care facility, or call us at (318)-249-8585.