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First Aid: Strains and Sprains

First Aid

Strains are injuries to muscle or tendons (which connect muscle to bone) due to overstretching. Sprains involve a stretch or a partial tear of ligaments (which connect two bones). Sprains and strains happen more often in teens than in younger children.

Signs and Symptoms

  • pain in the joint or muscle
  • swelling and bruising
  • warmth and redness of the injured area
  • trouble moving the injured part

What to Do

  • Make sure your child stops activity right away.
  • Think R.I.C.E. for the first 48 hours after the injury:
    • Rest: Rest the injured part until it's less painful.
    • Ice: Wrap an icepack or cold compress in a towel and place over the injured part immediately. Continue for no more than 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times a day.
    • Compression: Support the injured part with an elastic compression bandage for at least 2 days.
    • Elevation: Raise the injured part above heart level to decrease swelling.
  • Give your child ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain and swelling.

Get Emergency Medical Care if Your Child Has:

  • severe pain when the injured part is touched or moved
  • continued trouble bearing weight
  • more bruising
  • numbness or a feeling of "pins and needles" in the injured area
  • a limb that looks "bent" or misshapen
  • signs of infection (increased warmth, redness, streaks, swelling, and pain)
  • a strain or sprain that doesn't seem to be improving after 5 to 7 days

Think Prevention!

Teach kids to warm up properly and to stretch before and after exercising or participating in any sport, and make sure they always wear appropriate protective equipment.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: July 2018