Anyone who steps off a curb awkwardly or bends down in the wrong direction or just overdoes at the gym can experience a sudden jolt of pain that cries, “STOP”. Doubts about the seriousness of any new injury should prompt immediate medical attention. But when the injury is mild, home remedies can help calm the patient and the injured area.
Strains and Sprains and What to Do
One common cause of swelling is stretching or tearing of the ligaments that connect bone to bone—called a sprain, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Another frequent cause of swelling is twisting or pulling a muscle or tendon – called a strain. Mild sprains and strains usually cause mild pain, swelling, and little or no loss of function. NIAMS recommends the widely used RICE formula for injury care: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. RICE works for mild sprains and strains — and often swelling from more serious injuries after consultation with emergency medical personnel or orthopedic specialists.
RICE for Dummies
It might sound obvious, but Rest often includes reducing normal activities or weight bearing for the first 48 hours after injury. This could mean the use of crutches, air casts or special walking boots, and possibly a friend or family member willing to wait sympathetically on the injured party. Compression can be achieved with a loosely wrapped ace bandage or air casts and splints. Ice packs should be applied in 20-minute intervals, 4-8 times daily for the first 72 hours. Finally, Elevation means positioning the injured area above the height of the heart whenever possible – a feat often achieved by using comfy pillows.
Over the counter medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help to reduce pain and inflammation according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, AAOS. Do not take these type of anti-imflammatory NASAIDS and consult with an orthopedic specialist or emergency medical professional if you are in severe pain or have any reason to suspect a possible fracture. RED FLAG: Over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs can interact with other prescription drugs or cause harmful side effects such as stomach upset and bleeding – especially in the elderly -- so be sure to consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking these drugs.
Think Rehab Early On
Even while you are healing, rehabilitation of mild to moderate sprains and strains can begin during RICE with gentle motion, according to AAOS. After 48-72 hours, rehabilitation can continue with gentle exercises designed to restore pre-injury strength. It’s also important to protect the area from additional injury, avoiding activities that caused the injury for 2 weeks or longer. Most injuries get ice for the first 72 hours, but after that heat can be very beneficial according to the AAOS—especially for muscle strains. The AAOS also recommends alternating hot and cold to help restore range of motion in an injured joint or muscle.