Muscle Sprains and Strains

What is it and how can I treat it?

A sprain is an injury to a ligament – the strong tissues around joints which attach bones together that give support to joints.  Injuries to ligaments are usually caused by them being stretched during a sudden pull and the most common are ankles.  A strain usually means stretching or tearing of muscle fibres. Most muscle strains occur either  because the muscle has been stretched beyond its limits or it has been forced to contract too strongly.

Both can be very painful but most can be treated at home without the need to see a doctor. Occasionally strains and sprains will need physiotherapy and surgery may be needed for severe sprains when ligaments tear badly.

Generally though, most damaged ligaments or muscles heal by themselves over time.     There are a few simple things you can do to ease the pain and keep inflammation and swelling to a minimum.

  • Rest the affected joint or muscles for 48-72 hours following injury
  • Apply ice as soon as possible and leave it on for 10-30 minutes. Less than 10 minutes has little affect. More than 30 minutes may damage the skin. Make an ice pack by    wrapping ice cubes in a plastic bag or towel (do not place ice directly on the skin)    or use a bag of frozen peas as an alternative. Gently press the ice pack on the injured part
  • Compression with a bandage will limit swelling and help rest the joint.
  • Keep the injured part raised as this will reduce swelling. For ankle and knee sprains, keep the foot up on a chair and for hand and wrist sprains, use a sling with your hand higher than your elbow.

You may not need any medication if you are not in pain but if you are, then paracetamol    and ibuprofen will help.

Ask your pharmacist for advice.  If symptoms do not settle gradually then contact your GP for advice.

For more information on muscle strains and sprains visit