September 9, 2009
Five Steps for Sprain/Strain Safety
By Lindsey Capps, PT, DPT
Aiken Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center,
Walton Rehabilitation Health System
Augusta, GA—Sometimes that little sprain or strain isn’t so little.
Sprains and strains are among the most common injuries for both active teens and adults—in fact, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, sprains and strains are the leading cause of injury and illness requiring time off from work. While many can be treated with over-the-counter remedies, higher degree injuries where there is persistent pain, swelling and heat may need professional help in order to prevent problems down the road.
The Aiken Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center, part of Walton Rehabilitation Health System, offers the following tips for caring for sprains and strains:
Step One: Consider if immediate help is needed. Sprains and strains are classified as 1st, 2nd or 3rd degree injuries. A 1st degree sprain or strain can usually be treated with over-the-counter remedies while a 3rd degree injury has a loss of structural or biomechanical integrity. A 3rd degree injury may also require surgical intervention. Seek immediate medical attention if there is severe swelling combined with pain and limited movement.
Step Two: P-R-I-C-E It. Remember the acronym P-R-I-C-E—Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Protect your joint by stopping activity immediately and rest for at least three days. Apply ice 15 to 20 minutes at a time (every two hours that you’re awake), compress the joint with an elastic bandage or brace and elevate the injury above your heart to help reduce inflammation and swelling.
Step Three: Do a checkup. After three days, reevaluate the injury. If there’s still a lot of swelling, bruising, pain and heat, these may be clues that the degree of injury is more severe than you thought and needs professional attention. Your primary care physician can typically refer you to a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician or to a physical therapist for care and treatment. Don’t simply resume activity if you’re still feeling pain—you could rupture ligaments, which may require surgical intervention.
Step Four: Follow medical recommendations, if needed. Rehabilitation specialists, including physical therapists, can use different technologies to help reduce pain, manage inflammation and enhance tissue healing. Electric stimulation and ultrasound treatments can reduce pain and swelling. Heat is not recommended at the initial injury, but may be used after the first three days to increase flexibility and blood flow to the area, which promotes healing. In addition, after a sprain, a person’s balance is often “off,” which reduces stability and increases the risk for re-injury. A therapist can test for balance impairments and/or deficiency and provide training for balance to help you return to your daily routine, including any sports activities.
Step Five: Prevent future injuries. Remember, your ankles, knees and fingers are most susceptible to sprains and strains. Help reduce your risk by warming up and cooling down when participating in activities and by maintaining an active exercise routine.
The typical recovery period for a sprain or strain can take a few weeks up to a few months, depending on the degree of injury. Phase One focuses on rest and recovery (one week), Phase Two on restoring flexibility and strength (one to two weeks) and Phase Three on a gradual return to activities (weeks to months). So while you may think you have just a little sprain, don’t let it turn into a big problem—take the appropriate steps to treat your injury and ensure a safe recovery.
Media Contact: Danielle Wong Moores, PR Specialist, 706-434-0150
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