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    Strains & Sprains

    Strains & Sprains

    Strains and sprains are common types of injury that affects the muscles, ligaments and tendons. A ligament connects two bones and helps to hold a joint together while tendons attach muscles to bones. 

    Signs and symptoms of strains and sprains include:  

    •  Pain 
    •  Swelling and inflammation  
    •  Loss of movement of the affected part of the body 

    A sprain refers to the tearing, twisting and stretching of ligaments. The commonly affected areas of sprains are the knee, ankle, wrist and thumb.  

    A strain refers to the stretching or tearing of muscles or tendons. It may happen suddenly or slowly develop over time. It often affects the muscles of the leg and thigh as well as the lower back.  

    Self- Care at Home 

    What you can do 

    The initial treatment of the sprains and strains is summarised in the acronym R.I.C.E.  


    • Stop or limit the activity that caused the injury. 
    • Relieve the affected area from pressure, e.g. use crutches to help with movement if needed. 


    • Apply ice to reduce swelling and pain or muscle cramps of the affected area. 
    • Wrap the ice in a wet towel before use. Do not apply ice directly to the skin as this may cause ice burns. 
    • On the first day, apply ice to the injured area for 15 to20 minutes for 3 to 4 times a day. For the next 1-2 days, you can continue to use ice if the pain is still present.  
    • You can also choose to use ice packs. 


    • Compression reduces swelling and further movement which may worsen the injury. 
    • Apply a bandage on the affected area. Do not wrap it too tightly as it might cut off blood circulation to the affected area.  If you wrapped the area too tightly, you would notice that your fingers or toes might turn blue or feel cold. In this case, you should remove the bandage and re-wrap the bandage. Always remove the bandage before going to bed. 
    • Examples of bandages include crepe bandage or tubular elastic bandage. The choice would depend on the area of injury (Refer to Figure 1). 


    • Keeping the injury raised helps to reducing swelling. 
    • Raise the affected area to a position higher than the heart if possible.  This can also be supported by placing the injured area on a pillow. 


    What you should avoid 

    For the first 3 days, you should avoid H.A.R.M 


    Hot bath, sauna or hot packs may worsen the swelling around the injured area 


    Avoid drinking alcohol as it slows down the healing process 


    Running or other forms of exercise could cause your injury to worsen 


    This may increase the risk of bleeding and swelling 


    How you can prevent sprains and strains 

    Sprains and strains are usually caused by accidents.  You can prevent this by doing warm up and cool down exercises. Regular exercise will help to keep your joints flexible and reduce the chances of injury. If you always get sprains and strains, taping, strapping or wrapping your knees, ankles, wrists or elbows can help. This is especially so while you are recovering from injury and when you first return to your regular activities. 

    Avoid exercising when you are tired.  

    Wear the correct attire and use the right sports accessories during the activity to reduce the risk of strains and sprains.  It is also important to watch out for your posture during exercise to prevent posture-related injuries.  

    See a doctor if your 

    • Pain is not controlled after using medicines to help with pain and trying R.I.C.E. 
    • Injury is more serious than initially thought 
    • Injury affects a large joint (e.g. hip, knee, elbow, wrist)  

    See a doctor immediately if  

    • There is a chance of broken bones or joint dislocation  
    • There is a tingling and/or numbing feeling at the affected area 
    • The injured area is cold or turns pale or blue in colour. This may be a sign of damaged blood vessels and loss of blood to the affected area. 
    • You develop a fever  
    • You are unable to put weight on the injured area 
    • You are unable to use the affected joint   

    Fig.1. Bandages available in NHG Pharmacy 



    Crepe Bandage 

    •  Flexible  
    •  Can be adjusted to fit different joints and sizes 
    •  Requires skills to apply the bandage correctly and adjust the tightness  

    Elasticated Tubular Bandage 

    •  Comfortable  
    •  Easy to use 


    Updated in Nov 2018 

    This article does not take the place of talking to your doctor or pharmacist. People with special health needs such as babies, children below 12 year old, elderly and pregnant ladies should see a doctor instead of self-treatment. Always read the instructions and warnings on the package before taking any medicine.

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