Sometimes you will want to know how to treat sprains & strains, especially if you have kids or are involved with sports. Sometimes you’ll even have heard of ‘RICE’ as the correct treatment, but what does it mean? And what’s the difference between strain & sprain anyway? Let’s take a look.

What is a Sprain?

ankle sprain

A sprain happens when a ligament/tendon has been stretched beyond its normal range of movement. So, sprains always happen at joints (where the tendons are) but could happen at any joint, including for example your back. Common sprains with kids/sporty people include ankle, knee, wrist and elbow – these are just the joints commonly over-stretched. Also, realize that the ‘normal range of movement’ is different for different people – some kids are naturally way more flexible and so may be less likely to sprain something. (Yes, that’s a ‘text book’ example of an ankle sprain in the picture.)

What is a strain?

A similar ‘over use’ injury, this time occurring in a muscle.

How to treat sprains & strains with RICE

From a first aid point of view we treat both in the same way

  1. Expose & examine: Look at the injury. Is there any reason to suspect something worse? Could it be broken? Are there bones out of place? If so, take/send the person off to hospital.
  2. Palpate (feel it with your hands/fingers). It may be uncomfortable, but shouldn’t leave the person screaming in pain. If if does, time for the medics.
  3. Range of Motion test: Can the person do (most of) what they normally could? For example if the wrist injury completely prevents them moving their hand at the wrist and they’re immobile, it’s probably more serious, again get them checked out
  4. OK. So it looks relatively normal, isn’t unduly painful and they can move it without screaming? Time for the RICE then:
    1. Rest – to reduce the chance of more injury. Get them to stop whatever cause the injury (like playing sport, running, etc.)
    2. Ice –to reduce swelling, bruising and pain. 20 min on & 10 min off. Repeat as long as they tolerate this. Don’t apply ice directly to the skin, you’ll risk doing more injury that way, use a cloth or bandage between the ice and their skin.
    3. Compress – to reduce swelling. Use appropriate bandaging techniques (come to class and ask!)
    4. Elevate – to reduce swelling. This can be anything from slings to putting your foot up on the La-Z-Boy.

Analgesics may be appropriate – especially those which reduce swelling (like NSAIDs)
The sprain may take a few days to heal. If you/they have had trouble for over a week despite treatment, get the injury evaluated professionally.

Finally, come to a class and practice for yourself!