First aid: Sprains and Strains


Sprains and Strains are common injuries often confused for each other. It is important to understand the difference between them so as to provide adequate first aid care. 

A sprain is a stretch or tear in the ligament while a strain is a stretch or tear in a muscle or tendon. A ligament connects bones to bones at joints and a tendon connects a muscle to a bone.

How to tell the difference

Their symptoms are usually similar and they include pain and inflammation, bruising and swelling at the injured area.

For a sprain, you may feel a tear or a pop when it happens and then the joint may feel stiff or unstable.

For a strain, spasms and cramping are common signs.

You should see a doctor immediately if any of the following happens:

  1. The pain and swelling doesn’t reduce within 24 to 72 hrs.
  2. You cannot move an injured muscle at all
  3. It hurts when weight is put on it
  4. Your symptoms get worse

First aid care for sprains and strains

Follow these 4 steps care routine known as the “RICE” therapy to care for the injury for the first couple of days:

  1. Rest: Avoid putting weight on the injured area for 24-28 hrs. Stop any exercise or activity that requires you to put weight on it. Take care to not lift with an affected wrist or elbow also.
  2. Ice: Wrap Ice in a damp cloth or put in a plastic bag and place over injury for about 20 minutes every 2-3 hrs for the first 3 days.
  3. Compression: Wrap the affected area in an elastic bandage
  4. Elevation: Make sure to keep the affected area on a pillow and raised above your heart level as much as possible.

The RICE therapy is important during the first 24-72 hours after a sprain or strain happens. You can also take painkillers during this time.  Try to avoid massages and heat on affected area for the first couple of days to prevent swelling.

When you notice that you can move the affected area without feeling pain, try to continue moving it to prevent it from becoming stiff.