A sprain is an injury that involves the ligaments and other soft tissues around a joint, such as an ankle or wrist.
A strain occurs away from a joint and involves a torn or overstretched muscle or tendon, commonly in the calf, thigh or lower back.
A bruise is a soft tissue injury that involves the skin and nearby tissues following a blow or other forces that break a blood vessel close to the surface of the body. Bruising may be seen with either a sprain or strain.
Symptoms and signs – Not all may be present
- pain at the site of the injury, often severe with a sprain or strain
- loss of power in the injured area, especially with a sprained joint
- swelling of injured area
How you can help
Apply ‘RICE’: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
1. Assist the patient to rest in a comfortable position
- Assist the patient into the position of greatest comfort, generally sitting with support or lying down.
- Rest for up to 24 hours is helpful but gentle movement of the affected joint should be encouraged after that time.
2. Apply ice for significant pain
- An ice pack will help to reduce pain. It can be applied for 10 to 20 minutes at a time and can be repeated once if pain persists.
- To get the best effect from the ice and to avoid burning the skin, always wrap an ice pack in a damp cloth before applying it.
Avoid prolonged or direct application of ice.
3. Consider applying a compressing bandage
- Use a good-quality crepe roller bandage on an injured limb.
- Ensure that firm and even pressure is applied to the injured part without slowing the circulation of blood to the fingers or toes of the affected limb.
- If the bandage increases the pain, DO NOT persist with it.
A compressing bandage is not always necessary. However it may be useful if there is visible bruising.
4. Keep the injured area elevated and at rest and arrange for medical advice
- Ensure rest with elevation of the injured area for the first 24 to 48 hours.
- Use simple pain relief such as paracetamol during the first 24 to 48 hours, following directions on the package.
- Patients who have significant loss of function or severe pain should be seen by a doctor or physiotherapist. All patients should be advised to see a doctor or physiotherapist if their symptoms are not improving within two days, or earlier if worsening.
If the patient is in severe pain, or unable to be assisted to a car for transport – call 111 for an ambulance.
If the injury involves the lower back or neck, an ambulance is the best form of transport to avoid risk of further injury and stress.
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