Sprains and strains

Fast facts about sprains and strains

  • A sprain is stretching or tearing of ligaments, e.g. ankle sprain28
  • A strain is stretching and tearing of muscle or tendon, e.g. lower back or hamstring strain28
  • Initial treatment consists of RICE, i.e. Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation28
  • Analgesics like paracetamol can help relieve the pain, while non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or diclofenac will help relieve the swelling29,30

A sprain is when you overstretch or tear the ligaments that hold a joint together, e.g. an ankle sprain.28 This can happen when you put severe strain on a ligament – like when you twist a joint in a bad fall or when you overextend your joint during physical activity.28 Symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, limited ability to move the joint, and hearing or feeling a popping sound in the joint at the time of injury.28




A strain is when you stretch or tear a muscle or a tendon, e.g. lower back or hamstring strains.28 This can happen suddenly, e.g. slipping on ice or when lifting a heavy object, or it can happen over time from repetitive movement of a muscle, e.g. playing tennis or golf.28 Symptoms include pain, swelling, muscle spasm and limited ability to move the muscle.28


Self-treatment

Most sprains and strains feel better after two weeks of rest from strenuous activity, however, severe sprains and strains can take months to get better.30


Follow the 4 steps known as RICE, i.e., Rest the joint and keep weight off the injury; Ice the area every 2 to 3 hours for 20 min; Compress the area with a bandage; Elevate it as much as possible.30


You can also minimise swelling by avoiding heat, alcohol, and massage for the first few days.30


Would an analgesic be of value?

Yes, analgesics like paracetamol can help relieve the pain, while non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or diclofenac will help relieve the swelling, increasing your chances of regaining function and returning to activity sooner.29,30


When to contact a doctor

The pain from a sprain can often hide a more serious injury caused during the same harsh movement of your joint.28 Consult a doctor if you:

  • Can't move the injured joint28
  • Have pain directly over the bones of the injured joint28
  • Have numbness in the injured area28
  • Have significant pain when you try to walk more than four steps28

Frequently asked questions

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