Sprains and strains often result from sports or exercise, but can easily
result from any physical activity. Sprains result from an injury to a ligament
(the connective tissue that links bones together at joints), most often in the
ankle, knee, elbow, or wrist. Strains are tears in muscle tissue, commonly
occurring in the muscles that support the neck, thigh, groin, and
|Signs and Symptoms|
Sprains and strains cause pain and swelling. You may have joint instability
or disability if the injury is serious, involving a muscle or ligament
|What Causes It?|
Sprains generally result from a twisting force applied to a joint while it is
bearing weight, which causes the ligament to stretch beyond its natural limit.
Muscle strains occur when the weight load on a muscle is greater than what the
weakest part of the muscle can bear. Strains usually occur during activities
that require a muscle to be stretched and bear weight at the same time. You are
at risk for a sprain or strain if you do the following.
- Exercise without warming up properly
- Use athletic equipment that does not fit properly
- Participate in sports and activities that you are not conditioned
|What to Expect at Your Provider's Office|
Your health care provider may take an X ray. If your injury is severe, he or
she may also order an MRI. You may need to have the injured limb wrapped in an
elastic bandage or put in a soft cast.
Your health care provider will recommend that you treat the injury with RICE:
rest, ice (wrapped in a cloth or a towel—do not apply
ice directly to the skin), compression, and elevation of the affected area.
Apply RICE as needed over the first several days following the injury.
Ice reduces pain, bleeding, and inflammation. It may also reduce secondary
damage to other parts of the joint. However, the overall clinical benefit is not
known. Bleeding and inflammation may play an important role in the healing
process. Wrap the affected area in elastic bandage in more severe cases. Cast
may be required to stabilize injuries.
Activity that involves the affected area should be limited for an average of
Over-the-counter pain relievers (analgesics) and anti-inflammatory agents
usually help; however, it is important to consult your physician for adequate
dosing. When injuries are more severe or chronic, however, continued use of
analgesics may lead to aggravation of the condition. Analgesics should not be
used to mask pain so that activity can be resumed without proper
- Aspirin—325 mg, 1 to 2 tablets every four
- Naproxin—210 mg, 2 to 3 tablets every 8 to
- Ibuprofen—200 mg, 2 to 3 tablets every 4 to
- Analgesic balms
- Acetaminophen—325 mg, 1 to 2 tablets every 4
|Complementary and Alternative Therapies|
Specific nutrients and herbs may help restore the integrity of connective
tissue, reduce swelling, and provide pain relief.
- Vitamin C (250 to 500 mg two times a day) to reduce swelling and
support connective tissue.
- Bromelain (250 to 500 mg three times a day between meals) helps
- Beta-carotene (50,000 IU per day) is needed to make
- Zinc (15 to 30 mg per day) helps you heal faster.
- Vitamin E (400 IU/day) has antioxidant effects.
- Adequate protein intake is
Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites
(glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise
indicated, teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep
covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots.
Drink 2 to 4 cups per day.
Flavonoids are found in dark berries and some plants. They help reduce
swelling and strengthen the tissues that are affected by sprains and strains.
The following may be taken in dried extract form as noted.
- Quercetin: 250 to 500 mg three times a day
- Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna): 500 mg three times a
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa) makes the effect of bromelain
stronger. Take 250 to 500 mg each of turmeric and bromelain, three times a day
The following combination of herbs reduces spasm and stimulates circulation.
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), cramp bark (Viburnum opulus),
Jamaica dogwood (Piscidia piscipula), feverfew (Tanacetum
parthenium), poke root (Phytolacca americana), and valerian
(Valeriana officinalis). Combine equal parts in a tea (1 cup three to four
times per day), or tincture (15 drops every 15 minutes until you feel better, up
to eight doses; or 20 to 30 drops four times per day).
There have been few studies examining the effectiveness of specific
homeopathic remedies. Professional homeopaths, however, may recommend one or
more of the following treatments for sprains and strains based on their
knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take
into account a person's constitutional type. In homeopathic terms, a person's
constitution is his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An
experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most
appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
- Arnica (topical) — this remedy is
generally considered the first choice homeopathic treatment for acute injury; it
is applied topically in addition to an appropriate internal remedy; it should
not to be used, however, if skin the has open cuts over the injured
- Arnica (internal) — for injuries with
swelling, bruising, and inflammation; individuals should switch to another
appropriate remedy once swelling has subsided
- Bryonia — for swollen injuries that
are worsened with movement; this remedy is especially useful for chest,
shoulder, and hamstring injuries; often used if Arnica or Rhus
- Ledum — for sprained ankles that feel
cold or numb but improve with cold applications (such as ice) and worsen with
- Rhus toxicodendron — this remedy is
used after the initial symptoms of an injury have improved (such as from using
Arnica); for pain during initial movement that subsides with more
movement; affected area generally feels hot; this remedy is especially
appropriate for lifting or overexertion injuries
- Ruta — for tendonitis, torn ligaments
and other injuries that feel hot to the touch; especially useful as a treatment
for overexertion such as with tennis elbow and runner's knee; symptoms tend to
be worse with initial movement, but continued motion does not bring relief
Castor oil pack. Apply oil directly to skin, cover with a clean soft cloth
and plastic wrap. Place a heat source over the pack and let sit for 30 to 60
minutes. For best results, use for three consecutive days.
Acupuncture appears to be effective for sprains and strains. One study of 20
people found that acupuncture improved feelings of soreness. Acupuncturists
often apply moxibustion (a technique in which the herb mugwort is burned over
specific acupuncture points) in combination with needling in order to strengthen
or deepen the treatment for this condition.
Chiropractors commonly treat sprain and strain injuries, particularly those
that involve pain and diminished function. In fact, a significant number of
people who visit chiropractors do so for sprain and strain injuries. In addition
to joint manipulation, applications of ice and heat, the use of ultrasound or
electrical muscle stimulation are some of the ways chiropractors treat sprains
and strains. Stretching and strengthening exercises are also often recommended
to aid recovery and rehabilitation.
In a study of individuals with ankle sprains, researchers compared the
effectiveness of chiropractic joint manipulation with an anti-inflammatory
medication. They found that joint manipulation was as effective as the
anti-inflammatory medication in improving pain and flexibility, but it was more
effective than the medication in improving range of motion.
Therapeutic massage is effective at increasing circulation and may relieve
spasm in surrounding muscle groups.
Your health care provider probably won't need to see you again unless your
injury was severe or you have complications.
Be careful of recurring sprains and strains. Once a muscle or tendon is
injured, it is susceptible to reinjury, especially if you return to full
activity too soon. Sprains and strains are easy to prevent. Basic physical
fitness and strength training with proper warm-up and cool-down reduce the
stress to muscles and joints.
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|Review Date: August 1999|
|Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Gary Guebert, DC, DACBR,
(Chiropractic section October 2001) Login Chiropractic College, Maryland
Heights, MO; Joseph Trainor, DC, (Chiropractic section October 2001) Integrative
Therapeutics, Inc., Natick, MA; Marcellus Walker, MD, LAc, (Acupuncture section
October 2001) St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Center, New York, NY; Eric Wellons,
MD, Department of Surgery, Union Memorial Hospital, Baltimore, MD; Terry Yochum,
DC, Rocky Mountain Chiropractic Center, Arvada, CO; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA,
(Acupuncture section October 2001) President and Chairman, Hawaii State
Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu,
Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc
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