Sprains occur when you stretch or tear the ligaments — the tough bands that connect the bones. Sudden or quick heavy lifting often causes sprains that can be mild to severe. Mild sprains can bear weight, but a severe sprain requires medical attention to determine whether it's just a sprain, a dislocation, or a fracture. Symptoms of a sprain include:

  • Swelling

  • Bruising or redness

  • Pain during rest or when the injured muscle or the joint near the muscle is used

  • Weakness of the extremity

  • Complete inability to bear weight


For sprains and muscle injury, use the R.I.C.E. formula: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation to reduce pain and swelling and to help heal the affected muscle, tendons, ligaments, and tissues.

First Aid for Sprains

You can treat sprains at home by doing the following:

  • Apply ice packs in the first twenty-four hours and heat packs or pads when the swelling has decreased. (Note that application of heat too early will increase swelling and pain. Remember never to apply ice or heat to bare skin; only apply ice with some sort of covering, such as a towel.)

  • For pain relief and an increased ability to move around, take NSAID agents such as aspirin (for persons over sixteen only) or ibuprofen.

You may also use the R.I.C.E. formula — Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation — to help heal the affected muscle. This procedure entails:

  • First, ice the area for twenty minutes every hour that you are awake, for pain relief and to reduce inflammation.

  • Apply compression with an Ace or other elastic bandage wrapped firmly but not tightly, to provide support and to decrease swelling.

  • Elevate the injured area by propping up the sprain while sitting.

If your home-care methods don't give you relief after twenty-four hours, call your doctor. Go to an emergency department for any of the following:

  • You hear a “popping” sound when the injury occurs

  • Any significant swelling, pain or fever

  • Any open cuts

  • You can't walk or you lose use of an arm or leg

After the first forty-eight hours, begin to use the injured area very gently as you are able. A mild to moderate sprain should heal within two to four weeks. First aid for sprains may also be used for muscle strains.

Elevate and ice a strained muscle

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