Sprains and Strains

Sprains and strains are common injuries. Their symptoms are usually graded according to how mild or severe they are. X-rays are not usually needed to diagnose a sprain or a strain.

What is a Sprain?

A sprain occurs when one or more of your ligaments have been stretched, twisted or torn. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue around joints, which connect one bone to another, and help to keep your bones together and stable.  Sprains often occur in ligaments around a joint, such as your ankle or your knee. However, the joint is not dislocated or fractured.  In a minor sprain, some of the fibres within the ligament are stretched. In more serious sprains, the ligament may be torn, either partially or completely.  A damaged ligament can cause inflammation, bruising and pain around the affected joint. The most common locations for sprains are the ankle, knee, thumb and wrist.

What is a Strain?

A muscle strain is a stretch or tear of the tissue or fibres that make up your muscles. Sometimes, a strain is referred to as 'pulling a muscle'.

Most muscle strains happen if a muscle is overstretched or forced to tighten (contract) too strongly.

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Most mild to moderate sprains and strains can be treated at home.

Sprains and strains - using PRICE

Healthcare professionals advise that immediate treatment of sprains and strains should follow PRICE therapy. PRICE stands for protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Advice relating to each of these areas is outlined below.

  • Protection - protect the injured area from further injury - for example, by using a support or in the case of an ankle injury, wearing shoes that enclose and support your feet, such as lace-ups.
  • Rest - stop the activity that caused the injury, and rest the injured joint or muscle. Avoid activity for the first 48-72 hours after you injure yourself. Your GP may recommend that you also use crutches.
  • Ice - for the first 48-72 hours after the injury apply ice wrapped in a damp towel to the injured area for 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours during the day. Do not leave the ice on while you are asleep and do not allow ice to touch your skin directly as this may cause a cold burn.
  • Compression - compress or bandage the injured area in order to limit any swelling and movement that could damage it further. You can use a crepe bandage, a simple elastic bandage or an elasticated tubular bandage. It should be wrapped snugly around the affected area but it should not be too tight. You should remove the bandage before you go to sleep.
  • Elevation - keep the injured area raised and supported on a pillow to help reduce the swelling. If your leg is injured you should avoid long periods of time where your leg is not raised.

Sprains and strains - avoiding HARM

For the first 72 hours after a sprain or muscle strain you should avoid HARM. This means you should avoid:

  • Heat - such as hot baths, saunas or heat packs (applying a controlled amount of heat to affected joints),
  • Alcohol - this will increase bleeding and swelling and decreases healing,
  • Running - or any other exercise that could cause more damage, and
  • Massage - which may increase bleeding and swelling.

Sprains - moving the injured joint

Healthcare professionals advise that you should not immobilise your injured joint and should not stop moving completely. As soon as the pain allows you to move your joint, you should start doing flexibility (range of motion) exercises. Your GP can give you information and advice about the exercises that will be suitable for you.

Strains - immobilising the injured muscle

The advice for muscle strains is different. For the first few days after the injury you are advised to immobilise your injured muscle and keep it still. If your injury is severe your GP may also recommend that you use crutches.

The length of time that you should keep your muscle immobile will depend on how severe your injury is. The aim is to allow the muscle to start healing so that you can move it without tearing or pulling it again in the same place.

After a few days you will probably be advised to start moving and using the muscle.


Following a sprain or a strain, the length of time that it will take for you to recover will depend on how severe the injury is.

Depending on its severity after an ankle sprain you will probably be able to walk within 1-2 weeks after the injury. You may be able to use your ankle fully after 6-8 weeks and you will probably be able to return to sporting activities after 8-12 weeks.

Contact Details

Telephone: 07947 497654

Chiltern Therapies


Buckinghamshire SL7 3RL