Sprains and strains to muscles and joints are very common and for most they are a painful, but temporary reminder to be a little more careful. Adequate care can help your body to heal faster and may prevent further injury or prolonged pain.
Sprains occur when one or more ligaments of your body have been over-stretched, torn or twisted, such as going over your ankle or when an external force is applied to a joint such as during contact sports or an accident.
Strained or “pulled” muscles often happen when we over exert untrained muscles, train without properly warming up or try to go beyond a joint’s natural flexibility. They can happen while performing seemingly innocuous movements such as bending or twisting and are the result of some muscle fibres being stretched beyond their limits or forced to contract and shorten too quickly. Sometimes we feel the pain straight away; however some injuries might not cause pain until later on.
So what should you do?
Remember RICE (Relative rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) using these can help to relieve the pain and start the healing process.
1. Relative rest
The first thing to do if you feel pain is to reduce the offending activity as pain is usually your body’s way of telling you that there is something wrong that needs your attention. It can be normal to feel a little sore after exercises for a day or two, but if it is more than this, pushing through the pain is rarely beneficial. However, movement stimulates the healing process, so do stay as mobile as you comfortably can. Try to keep the joint moving through a comfortable range of motion, without forcing it to the point of pain. This will help encourage blood flow and keep your joint flexible whilst it heals. This particularly relevant for back pain as gentle exercise, such as walking, can help. You should slowly build your activity levels up as soon as your symptoms begin to resolve and soon as you are able.
Cooling the area using an ice pack can help to reduce swelling and pain. Wrap a thin tea towel around the area so as to avoid direct skin contact and then apply the pack to the injured area for 10-15 minutes. You should repeat this several times per day or every 2 hours for the first 72 hours. This will help to control inflammation, making it easier for your body to get blood and nutrients to the area and resolve the injured tissues.
gently applying a compression dressing may help to temporarily support the injured joint and reduce swelling, though remove this immediately if there are signs that this is reducing the circulation to the area (numbness, pins and needles, the skin turning white or blue…) and do not wear it at night.
If the injury is in the lower limb (knee or ankle) elevating the area a little can make it easier for your body to drain fluids that might have accumulated around the area, causing swelling. For example, if you hurt your knee, sitting down with your knee raised on a low foot stool may ease your pain.
I find Arnica 30 homeopathic remedy to be an excellent aid to recovery and this can be safely used in most cases including during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. It is readily available to purchase over the counter in pharmacies or health food shops, and can also be applied locally in the form of a cream, gel or ointment. Should you be worried of any interaction with your medication, please consult your pharmacist. You can also contact Helios Homeopathy for remedy orders or advice on 01892 537254.
Otherwise ordinary over the counter painkillers such as paracetamol can be used. For low back pain most recent NICE guidelines recommend the use of an non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen instead. Should you take medication or suffer from a medical condition such as asthma, cardio-vascular illnesses, digestive problems or kidneys issues; please consult with your pharmacist before using these drugs.
Most strains and sprains are relatively minor injuries that can be treated at home as previously described. However you should visit your GP a minor injuries unit (MIU) if:
- the pain is particularly severe and can not be managed at home with RICE and simple painkillers
- you can’t put weight on the injured limb or it gives way when you try to use it
- you can’t move the injured joint or muscle
- the injured area looks crooked or has unusual lumps or bumps other than swelling
- you experience paralysis or loss of sensation or the swelling is very bad
- you have numbness, discolouration or coldness in any part of the injured area
In such cases you can also call 111 to be advised on out of hours surgeries or your local MIU.
You should seek urgent medical attention or go to A&E if you notice changes to your bladder and bowel functions such as being unable to urinate or losing control of your bladder and/or bowels.
The length of time it can take to recover from a strain or sprain can vary considerably from one person to another and according to the severity of the injury. Factors such as poor conditioning due to a lack of regular exercise, poor posture and poor body use; inadequate warm up or cooling down techniques; fatigue; stress; can mean that a relatively minor injury occurs can take much longer to heal.
If your symptoms have not improved within 1 week consult your GP or your osteopath who will be able to determine what has gone wrong and advise you on it. Your osteopath will also be able to provide you with a safe and gentle manual treatment which may unable your body to heal faster as well as advise you the different factors that may have predisposed you to suffer this injury in the first place and how to prevent it in the future.
Do not hesitate to contact me for a chat and to discuss if osteopathy could help you. In the meantime, to help prevent strains and sprains remember to use your body mindfully, warm up properly before exercising, condition your body through regular strengthening and stretching exercise and… use suitable footwear for what you are doing! 😉