Sprains & Strains

Common causes for sprains and strains are falls, twisting a limb, sports injuries, and over-exertion. A sprain results from overstretching or tearing a ligament (fibrous tissue that connects bones), a tendon (tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone) or a muscle. A strain occurs when a muscle or tendon is overstretched or over-exerted. Both sprains and strains result in pain and swelling. The amount of pain and swelling depends on the extent of damage.


Common sense can prevent many sprains and strains.

General safety measures to prevent slips and falls:

  • Clear porches and walkways of ice in winter weather.
  • Wear shoes and boots with non-skid soles.
  • Install sturdy hand rails on both sides of stairways.
  • Use rubber mats or adhesive-backed strips in bathtubs and shower stalls. Installing a support bar is also recommended.
  • Make sure light switches are located near all room entrances inside of the house and to entrances outside.
  • Use a night light between the bedroom and bathroom or in the hallway at night.
  • Keep stairways and foot traffic areas clear of shoes, toys, tools, and other clutter.
  • Floor coverings should be kept skid-proof. Vinyl floors should be cleaned with non-skid wax. Carpeting should be secured to the floor. Area rugs should have non-skid backing.
  • Be careful whenever you use a ladder. Make sure it is steady and long enough to reach the job without standing on the top three steps.

To prevent sprains and strains from sports injuries:

  • Ease into any exercise program. Start off with activities of low intensity, frequency, and duration and build up gradually.
  • Do warm-up exercises such as those that stretch the muscles before your activity, not only for vigorous activities, such as running, but even for less vigorous ones, such as golf. Don’t bounce.
  • Don’t overdo it. If muscles or joints start to hurt, ease up.
  • In vigorous activities, go through a cool-down period. Spend five minutes doing the activity at a slower pace. For example, after a run, walk or stroll for five minutes so your pulse comes down gradually.
  • Wear proper-fitting shoes that provide shock absorption and stability. Wear shoes designed for the sports activity you are doing.

Also, see the do’s and don’ts of proper lifting in the section, “Backaches,” on page 101.

Treatment for sprains and strains will depend on the extent of damage done to the muscle, ligament, tendon, etc. Self-help measures may be all that are needed for mild injuries. Severe sprains may require medical treatment. Some sprains require a cast. Others may need surgery if the tissue affected is torn.

Self-Care Tips

  • Stop what you’re doing. Then use R.I.C.E. (See R.I.C.E. under Self-Care Tips for Sports Injuries on page 109).
  • Take aspirin or ibuprofen every four hours for pain and inflammation. (Take with food or milk to prevent stomach irritation). [Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication containing salicylates to anyone 19 years of age or younger unless directed by a physician, due to its association with Reye’s Syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.]

Also note, for specific areas of the body:

  • Remove rings immediately if you have sprained a finger or other part of your hand. (If swelling occurs, the rings may have to be cut off).
  • Use crutches to speed the healing process for a badly sprained ankle. They will help you avoid putting weight on the ankle which could cause further damage.

Call your doctor if the sprain or strain does not improve after four days of self-care tips.

Questions to Ask

Did the strain or sprain occur with great force from a vehicle accident or fall from a high place?

Yes: Seek Emergency Care


Do you have any of these signs?

  • A bone sticking out or bones in the injured part make a grating sound
  • The injured body part looks crooked or the wrong shape
  • A loss of feeling in the injured body part
  • You can’t move the injured body part or put weight on it

Yes: Seek Emergency Care


Does the skin around the injury turn blue and/or feel cold and numb?

Yes: See Doctor


Do you have any of these signs?

  • There is bad pain and swelling or the pain is getting worse
  • It hurts to press along the bone

Yes: See Doctor


Provide Self-Care

Healthy Self: The Guide to Self-Care and Wise Consumerism

© American Institute for Preventive Medicine

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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021