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How can I care for a sprain or strain at home?

Most sprains and strains can be treated at home and will heal in two to three weeks. Proper treatment focuses on alleviating the pain, controlling the swelling and, most importantly, resting the area while it is healing. If you need to see your primary healthcare practitioner for a strain or a sprain, home care techniques can be useful in treating the injury until you are able to see a professional. Prompt and effective home care can help control the swelling, limit the pain of the injury and start you on the road to rehabilitation. Some self-help tips to remember when faced with a sprain or strain:

Stop and rest when you feel pain. Don't continue doing whatever caused the injury; you'll only make the injury worse.

If the injury is to a hand or a finger, immediately remove any rings. This will avoid having to cut jewelry off later if there is swelling; a ring on a swollen finger can restrict blood flow to the finger tip.

Take a pain reliever such as ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling. Aspirin should be avoided as it interferes with the clotting process of the blood in vessels that may have broken during the injury.

Use RICER to treat the injured area:
  • Rest the injured area for 24 to 48 hours.
  • Ice the injured area for 10 to 15 minutes at two-hour intervals for the first 48 to 72 hours. An ice pack will help reduce swelling and inflammation. (A bag of frozen peas or corn works well for this and can be reused as an ice pack.) Ice should not be put directly on the skin; instead, wrap the ice in a towel. After the first three days of ice application, you may begin alternately applying heat and ice to the injured area.
  • Compress the injured area by wrapping it tightly with an elastic bandage for 30 minutes, then unwrapping it for 15 minutes. Repeat this cycle several times. Start the wrap at the point farthest from the heart and move toward the heart. Compression will help control the swelling and will give support to the area. For ankles, adding a horseshoe or doughnut pad around the ankle before wrapping can help prevent fluid from building up in the back of the ankle between the Achilles tendon and the anklebones. If that area fills with fluid, the ankle cannot flex well and healing and rehabilitation times increase.
  • Elevate the injured area to reduce swelling and promote the draining of fluids. 
  • Rehabilitate the injured area.
Refrain from using the injured area while it heals.

Gradually add weight and movement after two days.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.