Sprains and strains are not only the result of sports injuries, they can occur when you bend or turn the wrong way when carrying heavy groceries, from gardening or putting more pressure than usual on your joints, particularly the ankles and knees. A sprain refers to torn ligaments, while a strain is the tearing of tendons or muscle tissue.
When a muscle, tendon or ligament is made to perform a task it is unaccustomed to doing, or is subject to repetitive stress, it can overstretch, causing the tearing of its fibers. The first symptom of a sprain or strain is pain, though the pain may not appear until a day or two after the injury. For instance, if you spent an afternoon trimming the hedges around your house, the inflammation and swelling that results from raising your arms overhead for an extended period of time, along with the muscle spasms that cause the strain, could show up a day or two later.
A severe sprain or strain may require surgery to repair the torn tissue. However, despite taking a number of weeks to fully heal, if the sprain or strain is relatively mild it can easily be treated at home. There is a simple formula for treating both these types of injuries, called RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).
Rest – Allow the affected joint to rest, try to keep it immobile and don’t put any pressure on it if possible. A sling may be useful to provide support while the damaged tissue heals.
Ice – Apply ice to the affected area as soon as possible after the injury to help reduce swelling, and continue to do so frequently during the first 24 hours. After that time, either heat or ice may be used in order to alleviate pain.
Compression – An Ace bandage wrapped around the injury can help reduce pain and swelling. Wrap the bandage snugly, but be sure not to wrap it so tight as to overly restrict blood flow.
Elevation – Elevate the injured area to keep the swelling down.
After a few days, when the pain has somewhat subsided, the affected area should be gently moved and the movement gradually increased to help begin to restore flexibility and strength to the muscles, ligaments and tendons.
A sprain or strain can take up to 6 months to heal. But with proper care and conditioning, healing time can be reduced somewhat. Future injuries may be prevented by performing some light stretching on a daily basis or practicing yoga, which gently stretches and strengthens muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Though anti-inflammatory medications may be taken to reduce pain and swelling, chiropractic treatment has also proven to be helpful in reducing pain and increasing joint mobility.