Home Remedies, Treatment, and Prevention of Sprains and Strains

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

What home remedies are effective for sprains and strains?

Initial treatment for sprains and strains should occur as soon as possible. Remember RICE!

  • Rest the injured part. Pain is the body's signal to not move an injury.
  • Ice the injury. This will limit the swelling and help with the spasm.
  • Compress the injured area. This again, limits the swelling. Be careful not to apply a wrap so tightly that it might act as a tourniquet and cut off the blood supply.
  • Elevate the injured part. This lets gravity help reduce the swelling by allowing fluid and blood to drain downhill to the heart.

Over-the-counter pain medication is an option. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is helpful for pain, but ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) might be better because these medications relieve both pain and inflammation. Remember to follow the guidelines on the bottle for appropriate dose of the medicine, especially for children and teens. Underlying medical conditions or use of other prescription medicines may limit the use of over the counter pain medications.

What is the treatment for sprains and strains?

Sprains and strains can usually be treated with home therapy using the RICE interventions. However, if the injury is more severe, your care provider may suggest splinting or casting to rest the injured joint. In some cases, operations are required to fix complete tears of muscles or tendons to allow complete return of function and to allow those muscles to do their job of moving the body. Significant tears of ligaments that stabilize joints also may need repair, but again, most are treated with short-term immobilization and early return to activity. Sometimes, resting the injury requires some help. Slings for arm injuries or crutches for leg injuries can be used, in addition to a variety of removable splints to protect the injured area from further damage and movement. Resting also helps relieve some of the muscle spasm associated with the injury.

  • Occasionally, if the injury is especially severe, the physician may want to use a nonremovable splint made of plaster or fiberglass. Although the splint may look like a cast, it doesn't have plaster or fiberglass completely encircling the injured area. Instead, by only going partially around an injury, there is some room to allow for swelling that may occur during the next few days.

Surgery for muscle injuries

If the need for an operation is considered, an orthopedic (or bone) specialist is likely to become involved. Many times these decisions are made over a period of a few days and not immediately, unless there is concern about the stability of a joint or damage to an artery or nerve.

Is it possible to prevent sprains and strains?

Sprains and strains are caused by accidents. People don't plan on becoming injured, but there are some practices that may help prevent injuries. Muscles need to be warmed up before exercise and work. A stretching program is helpful in minimizing the risk of injury. Even simple tasks at work can cause painful strains if the body is not ready to do the work.

Prognosis for sprains and strains

The goal of treatment for sprains and strains is the return to the level of function that the person had before the injury. This means that the expectation is for the injury to completely heal. The time frame for recovery depends on the severity of the injury. It may take just a few days for a slight sprain of an ankle to heal, or it may take months for a knee to heal that has to be surgically reconstructed.

Perhaps the most important therapy for all injuries is rehabilitation. This may be a home exercise program that your doctor outlines, or it may be a formal physical therapy program. You should have an understanding before leaving the office or hospital of what work is expected to rehabilitate the injury. Ask the following questions:

  • What limitations are there for activity and work?
  • What is the time frame for recovery?
  • When is it safe to return to full activity?
  • When should a reevaluation be scheduled?

Medically reviewed by Aimee V. HachigianGould, MD; American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery

REFERENCE:

Young, Craig C. "Ankle Sprain." Medscape.com. Dec. 16, 2014. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1907229-overview>.

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Reviewed on 3/10/2017 12:00:00 AM