actively informed

News and insights from your clinicians at Precision Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.

Microsoftteams Image (9)

Your Guide to Nursing a Sprain, Strain, or Tear

Precision Orthopedics By Precision
May 24, 2023 | Foot & Ankle Injuries

It has happened.

You’ve done everything in your power to prevent it, but you’ve still managed to injure yourself and now you’re wondering exactly how long it’s going to take you to get back to 100%.

First of all, it’s important to recognise that these things happen; and as much as you can do to reduce the risk of strains or sprains (including a read through our ‘Handling Fall Prevention, Like a Boss’ article), they’re pretty much an inevitability. 

In fact, around 628,000 sprains happen annually – ouch!

Thankfully, the vast majority of these injuries heal on their own; especially with the right attention, care, and patience. 

In this short article, we’ll dive into the ideal steps in nursing a sprain, strain, or tear; giving you the power to get back in action in no time. 

What actually is a sprain, strain, or tear?

Recognizing the injury should be of highest priority, this will indicate the best method moving forward – of course, should you ever have any doubt, a quick appointment with your GP is always the most reliable way of identifying an injury.

A sprain affects ligaments, the tough bands that connect your bones together. When you twist, pull, or tear these ligaments, it can result in a sprain. 

Strains, on the other hand, impact muscles or tendons (which attach muscles to bones). Excessive stretching or tearing of these tissues can cause strains. 

A tear is the most severe of the three. A tear occurs when the muscle, tendon, or ligament is partially or completely ruptured. 

Common symptoms for all three mentioned above include pain, swelling, bruising, and reduced mobility. In the event of a tear, you may also experience a ‘popping’ or ‘snapping’ sensation at the time of injury.

Whatever the injury may be, your immediate response should be to go and get some RICE

What is RICE?

No, not the seed-from-aquatic-grass kind of rice (although, a delicious stir fry is a great way to provide comfort after a minor injury!). We’re talking about RICE therapy.

RICE is the acronym for ‘Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation’. This treatment has been shown to reduce swelling, manage pain, and aid the healing process.

Rest: Cease activity immediately to avoid worsening the injury. Let the phone ring and the kids fend for themselves; this becomes your number-one priority. Rest the affected area for at least 48 – 72 hours, or longer if necessary.

Ice: Apply a cold pack to the injured area for 15 – 20 minutes at a time, every 2-3 hours, during the first day or two post-injury. To prevent ice burns, wrap the ice pack in a thin towel. This helps to reduce swelling, and gives you even more of an excuse to put your feet up. 

Compression: Use an elastic compression bandage around the affected area to both help reduce swelling and to keep the affected area stationary. Make sure the wrap is snug but not so tight that it impedes blood flow.

Elevation: Whenever possible, elevate the injured area above the level of your heart, especially when sleeping or resting. If the affected area is a limb, place a pillow underneath to keep it elevated while in bed. 

Although RICE therapy has been used to treat sprains, strains, and tears for decades, it’s important to note that it is not recommended to treat broken bones or more serious injuries to soft tissue. These injuries may require surgery, medication, or extensive physical therapy.

How can I manage the pain?

For pain management, over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol may be a great option. Ibuprofen specifically will help reduce inflammation too, which will further decrease pain and allow more movement around the affected area.

Always follow the recommended dosage, and if the pain persists, consult your GP!

Once the initial pain and swelling have begun to subside, you can introduce gradual movement and gentle exercise to improve flexibility and strength. Additionally, physical therapy can be hugely beneficial. Not only will this aid the path to recovery, but with targeted exercise routines, it can help to prevent future injuries from occurring.

When should I  Seek Medical Attention?

While most sprains, strains, and tears can be managed at home, severe injuries may require medical attention. Signs that warrant a visit to the doctor include: intense pain, inability to move or bear weight on the injured area, numbness, and long-term instability. 

In these cases, seeking medical attention should be prioritized.

When it comes to taking care of a sprain, strain, or tear, it largely comes down to a matter of patience and attentiveness. The recovery period can be frustrating, especially when you feel you have endless things to do, all of which don’t include putting your feet up. But it’s essential to go easy, and allow your body the time it needs to fully heal

Recognizing the severity of the injury, practicing RICE therapy, managing pain, and slowly reintroducing movement are all part of the healing journey. Above all, never hesitate to seek professional medical advice when needed to ensure a safe and effective recovery.

You’ll be back on your feet in no time, stronger than ever.