Sprains and Strains

Sprains, strains and contusions are the most common types of non-bone injuries. They can occur anywhere in the body, but typically involve an extremity. These injuries are due to abnormal stretching of the tissues around a joint (sprain) or of a muscle or tendon (strain). Contusions are the damage to muscle and blood vessels that occurs from a direct blow.

The result of these injuries is a painful condition that is aggravated by using the affected part. Often there is swelling and discoloration. In severe contusions or strains there may be enough bleeding in the tissue to produce an accumulation of blood (a hematoma).

Treatment consists of resting the affected part, sometimes with the help of external splints or wraps. Physical therapy is occasionally recommended, particularly with sports injuries. Follow-up care is important to assess for any long-term problems.

Home Care for Sprains and Strains

  • As with any acute injury, it is very important to minimize further harm. Immediately elevate and rest the affected extremity. If possible, cool it off with cold compresses continuously for the first hour, and then for 20 minutes an hour for the next four hours. Cold packs are beneficial for the first 48 hours following injury.Never apply heat to a fresh injury.

  • If you have been given a splint or brace, wear it as directed. Normally a few days to a week is adequate, but continue to use the splint if pain is not improving. If you have not shown any improvement in 5-7 days, contact your personal physician for reevaluation.

  • X-rays are not always necessary, but if taken through our department, your provider will give a preliminary interpretation. The final report is generally available the next working day. We will call you if there is anything different about the final interpretation, or if treatment or follow-up recommendations need to be changed.

  • Ibuprofen, aspirin or acetaminophen will generally help with the pain. Occasionally prescription medications are advised. BE AWARE: Some of these cause drowsiness.

  • Hematomas (blood filled enlargements under the skin) can result from strains or contusions. Often they are not noticed until the swelling subsides. Normally they are not a problem and resolve on their own in a month (or even longer). If you have any concerns, check with your personal physician. If you don't have one, we can assist in finding one for you.


Call or Return If Any of the Following Occur:

  • Severe, increasing pain at or beyond the site of the injury.

  • Any problem with a splint or other immobilization device. (Loosen it if it feels too tight.)

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