Injuries that involve body tissues apart from bone are generally classified as soft tissue injuries. Sprains, strains and bruises are all soft tissue injuries, although the cause and tissues involved in each injury are different.

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.

Apply ice for significant pain

Apply ice for significant pain

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.
Keep the injured area elevated and at rest and arrange for medical advice

Keep the injured area elevated and at rest and arrange for medical advice

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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