First aid

29 January 2007

Treat the pain of a strain

Yeah-yeah! Been there, done that! Sooner or later, it's bound to happen.

Sooner or later, it's bound to happen. You sprain your ankle, wrist, elbow or even your knee - but what exactly have you done?

With a sudden quick movement, you've forced your joint to go beyond its normal range of motion. (Ankle sprains are most common.) That's created a sprain, or injured ligament. Ligaments are the tissues that keep our bones together at the joint. When severely torn or injured they may need to be surgically repaired.

Blame it on warm weather

A lot of ankle sprains are seen during warmer weather. Why? Because that's when most of us spend time outside, running, hiking or playing volleyball.

During autumn and winter, playing rugby and netball often leads to ankle sprains. About 80 percent to 90 percent of the time, these types of ankle injuries occur when a person jumps in the air and lands incorrectly.

The three types of sprains

Ankle sprains are classically divided into three groups: Type I sprains are the mildest, followed by Type II and the extremely painful Type III’s.

With a Type I, minimal strain occurs when ligament fibres are stretched out. A Type II classification is assigned to partial ligament tears. When the ligament is completely torn, the patient has a Type III sprain.

They may also experience severe pain, swelling and bruising. And patients with Type III injuries usually find it very difficult to walk.

When to call a doctor

Too many patients don't take their injuries seriously. "The main thing," he says, is "don't say, 'it's just a sprain.' If improperly treated the injury could turn into a long-term disability."

Early treatment with the correct amount of physical activity can prevent chronic pain and improper healing. There are some warning signs that you might have a Type II or Type III sprain and should seek professional help.

You should watch for these symptoms:

  • Inability to bear weight and a large amount of swelling and bruising. In fact, swelling after an injury can even make the area feel numb.
  • The joint locks or is difficult to move.

Self-treating a sprain

If the sprain seems minor and you don't notice any of the above symptoms, you can try treating it yourself at home. Simply remember the acronym "R.I.C.E.", short for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

R.I.C.E is easy to remember, but injury-prone folks might want to memorize I.C.E.R. instead. That's the order in which to perform these steps.

  • First, ICE the affected area right away. That "freezes" the blood vessels and reduces swelling.
  • Then, COMPRESS the area of injury and wrap it with an elastic bandage. .
  • Next, ELEVATE the part of the body that you've injured to further reduce the swelling. .
  • Finally, REST the injured area for at least 24 to 48 hours.

    How to prevent ankle sprains

    If you are prone to ankle sprains, it is recommended that you wear high-top shoes. There are also many good over-the-counter ankle braces.


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