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HealthSheets™

Self-Care for Strains and Sprains

Most minor strains and sprains can be treated with self-care. Recovering from a strain or sprain may take 6 to 8 weeks. Your self-care goal is to reduce pain and immobilize the injury to speed healing.

Side view of ankle bones and ligaments with an insets showing a tear in the ligament.
A sprain injures ligaments (tissue that connects bones to bones).

Lateral view of bones of leg/foot below the knee w/ important ligaments with a strained achilles tendon.
A strain injures muscles or tendons (tissue that connects muscles to bones).

Support the injured area

Wrapping the injured area provides support for short, necessary activities. Be careful not to wrap the area too tightly. This could cut off the blood supply.

  • Support a wrist, elbow, or shoulder with a sling.

  • Wrap an ankle or knee with an elastic bandage.

  • Tape a finger or toe to the one next to it.

Use cold and heat

Cold reduces swelling. Both cold and heat reduce pain. Heat should not be used in the initial treatment of the injury. When using cold or heat, always place a towel between the pack and your skin.

  • Apply ice or a cold pack 10 to 15 minutes every hour you’re awake for the first 2 days.

  • After the swelling goes down, use cold or heat to control pain. Don’t use heat late in the day, since it can cause swelling when you’re not active.

Rest and elevate

Rest and elevation help your injury heal faster.

  • Raise the injured area above your heart level.

  • Keep the injured area from moving.

  • Limit the use of the joint or limb.

Use medicine

  • Aspirin reduces pain and swelling. (Note: Don’t give aspirin to a child 18 or younger unless prescribed by the doctor.)

  • Aspirin substitutes, such as ibuprofen, can reduce pain. Some substitutes reduce swelling, too. Ask your pharmacist which substitutes you can use.

Call your doctor if:

  • The injured joint won’t move, or bones make a grating sound when they move.

  • You can’t put weight on the injured area, even after 24 hours.

  • The injured body part is cold, blue, or numb.

  • The joint or limb appears bent or crooked.

  • Pain increases or doesn’t improve in 4 days.

  • When pressing along the injured area, you notice a spot that is especially painful.

© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.