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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




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

after food.


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


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

Febrile convulsions

Fevers in children

Head injury advice



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