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Muscle strains and ligament sprains are common soft tissue injuries that happen during sport, fitness activity and just going about your everyday life. They cause various degrees of pain, as well as inflammation around the damaged tissues. There might also be some bleeding, which may cause a bruise to surface some time later.

Usually, if you apply RICE (see below) to reduce swelling and use over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain-relievers for a few days, the injury will heal and you’ll be able to use the muscle or muscle group without pain. If the pain and swelling don’t improve after two or three days despite these measures, you should see a doctor. With more severe injuries there maybe a complete tear of a ligament, tendon or muscle which may need early referral to a surgeon for repair.



What causes strains and sprains?

A strain occurs when you tear or overstretch a muscle or tendon. Strains can happen if you don’t warm up enough before exercise or if your muscles become fatigued. A sprain is a tear in a ligament (the fibrous tissue that connects bones). Sprains are caused by the sudden, forceful twisting of a joint.

In both cases, if the injury doesn’t heal properly, there is a good chance it will happen again.



What is the treatment?

The first step is RICE:

Rest: Try not to move or load the injured area – this helps to prevent further damage.

Ice: Apply ice or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a damp towel to the injury for 20 minutes as soon as possible after the injury. Repeat every two hours over the next two days.

Compression: Apply a firm elasticated bandage to reduce pain, bleeding and swelling. If your fingers or toes start tingling or go numb, loosen the bandage.

Elevation: Raise the injured part above the level of your heart if possible, resting it on a chair or cushion.


To relieve the pain of a soft tissue injury, you can take over-the-counter pain-relievers such as paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or diclofenac. A combination of Paracetamol 500mg + Ibuprofen 150mg is particularly useful for injuries involving pain and inflammation. Analgesic creams and other topical treatments such as capsaicin and menthol rubs can also provide effective pain relief.


Once the pain eases it is important to mobilise early rather than continuing to rest or favour the injured limb. Healing is dependent on the injured part being correctly stimulated by normal use.





More information

EMedicine Health

Article on muscle strain

EMedicine Health

 Article on sprains and strains



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