Muscle sprains and strains
A sprain is an injury to a ligament - the strong tissues around joints which
attach bones together that give support to joints. Injuries to ligaments
are usually caused by them being stretched during a sudden pull and the
most common are to ankles. A strain usually means a stretching or tearing
of muscle fibres. Most muscle strains occur either because the muscle
has been stretched beyond its limits or it has been forced to contract too
Both can be very painful but most can be treated at home without the need to see a
doctor. Occasionally sprains and strains will need physiotherapy and surgery may be
needed for severe sprains where the ligament tears badly.
Generally though, most damaged ligaments or muscles heal by themselves over time.
But there are a few simple things you can do to ease the pain and keep inflammation
and swelling to a minimum.
• Rest the affected joint or muscle for 48–72 hours following injury
• Apply ice as soon as possible and leave it on for 10-30 minutes. Less than 10 minutes
has little effect. More than 30 minutes may damage the skin. Make an ice pack by
wrapping ice cubes in a plastic bag or towel (do not put ice directly onto to skin) or use
a bag of frozen peas as an alternative. Gently press the ice pack onto the injured part.
• Compression with a bandage will limit swelling, and help to rest a joint. Ask your
pharmacist for advice on the right one to use
• Keep the injured part raised. This will limit and reduce swelling. For ankle and knee
sprains, keep the foot up on a chair and for hand or wrist sprains, use a sling with your
hand and wrist higher than your elbow.
You may not need any medication if you are not in pain but if you are then paracetamol
or ibuprofen will help.
If symptoms and swelling do not gradually settle then contact your GP surgery for advice.
For more information on muscle strains and sprains visit www.nhs.uk
Everyone who has pain should consider taking painkillers. There are several
kinds of painkiller and different types work best for different types of pain.
Perhaps the most common painkiller is paracetamol. Paracetamol is used to relieve mild
to moderate pain such as headache. It is also useful for lowering a raised temperature. It
is available from your pharmacy, supermarket or store and costs very little. Two tablets
of paracetamol up to four times a day is a safe dose for adults. Paracetamol, usually
in liquid form, is available for children. Side effects are not common. Overdosing on
paracetamol can cause serious side effects so if your pain is severe, do not increase the
dose. Do not take it with any other paracetamol products. Paracetamol is contained in
many over the counter cold and flu remedies so always check the label. And if your pain
lasts for more than three days, see your GP.
Ibuprofen is another common painkiller. It is an anti-inflammatory and is used to ease
pain in various conditions including arthritis, strains and sprains, period pain, pains after
operations, dental pain, headaches, migraines, and some other types of pain. Some ant-
inflammatory medicines need a prescription but ibuprofen is readily available from your
Pharmacy, supermarket or store. It is very cheap to buy but should not be taken for long
periods of time as this increases the risk of side effects. It should always be taken with or
There are several practical things you can do to help relieve pain:
• Get some gentle exercise such as walking
• Breathe slowly and deeply.
• Distract yourself by doing something so that pain isn’t the only thing on your mind.
For more information on how to treat pain visit www.nhs.uk.
How to treat your injured ankle
How to treat your injured knee
How to treat your shoulder injury
How to treat your wrist injury
How to treat your neck injury
How to treat your elbow injury
How to treat your injured calf
Burns and scalds
Fevers in children
Head injury advice