All sports and exercises, even walking, carry a risk of sprains. The areas of the body most at risk for a sprain depend on the specific activities involved. For example, basketball, volleyball, soccer and other jumping sports share a risk for foot, leg and ankle sprains.
Soccer, football, hockey, boxing, wrestling and other contact sports put athletes at risk for strains. So do sports that feature quick starts, such as hurdling, long jump and running races. Gymnastics, tennis, rowing, golf and other sports that require extensive gripping put participants at higher risk for hand strains. Elbow strains frequently occur in racquet, throwing and contact sports.
A severe sprain or strain may require surgery or immobilization, followed by physical therapy. Mild sprains and strains may require rehabilitation exercises and a change in activity during recovery.
In all but mild cases, your health care provider should evaluate the injury and establish a treatment and rehabilitation plan.
Meanwhile, rest, ice, compression and elevation (called RICE) usually will help minimize damage caused by sprains and strains. You should start RICE immediately after the injury.
RICE relieves pain, limits swelling and speeds healing, and it is often the best treatment for soft-tissue injuries, such as sprains and strains. Here's what to do:
- Rest: The injured area should be moved as little as possible to allow healing to begin.
- Ice: Apply it immediately to reduce inflammation, which causes more pain and slows healing. Cover the injured area with an ice pack for about 20 to 30 minutes, three to four times a day.
- Compression: Using a pressure bandage helps to prevent or reduce swelling. Use an elastic bandage. Wrap the injured area without making it so tight that it will cut off the blood supply.
- Elevation: Raise the injured area above the level of the heart. Prop up a leg or arm while resting it. You may need to lie down to get your leg above your heart level.
Do all four parts of the RICE treatment at the same time. If you suspect a more serious injury, such as a broken bone, call your health care provider immediately.
No one is immune to sprains and strains, but here are some tips developed by the AAOS to help reduce your injury risk:
- Participate in a conditioning program to build muscle strength.
- Do stretching exercises daily.
- Always wear properly fitting shoes.
- Nourish your muscles by eating a well-balanced diet.
Warm up before any sports activity, including practice, and use or wear protective equipment appropriate for that sport.