A sprain is the tearing of the ligaments, fibrous structures which support the joints. The most common sprains occur on the limbs, such as sprained ankles, wrists and thumbs, but can affect almost any joint if the ligaments are suddenly or excessively stretched beyond the normal range of movement. ‘Whiplash’, for example is the spraining of the ligaments between the vertabrae of the neck. The joint will swell and often bruise and will be extremely painful.
Initially, sprains should be treated much the same way as bruises. Much of the pain of sprains arises from the swelling and the bleeding in the tissues. Immediately apply ice to the area and elevate the affected limb. Rest as much as possible. Apply arnica as a cream or tincture, or a compress of either arnica or comfrey root, directly on the swelling. Under medical supervision only, arnica can be taken in tablet form to help limit the bruising and Vitamin C and the herb horsetail aid the healing of muscle tissue. Initially, the joint may be strapped firmly to provide support, limit swelling and ease the pain. Soon, however, gentle massage and movement is required to prevent the ligament tissues shortening and tightening as they heal. To begin with, a physiotherapist will only stroke the affected area firmly, progressing to deeper tissue massage with fingers and thumbs only when the injury is healing. Hydrotherapy can also help the patient maintain movement and build up strength in the joint. Note that sprains take longer to heal than fractures do, up to six or eight weeks, and that a joint which has been sprained may be permanently weakened and more prone to dislocation, requiring special care and strapping with elastic bandage when exercising.
Rather than arising from one single over extension of the joints, strains result from the overuse of muscles, through careless exercise or even because of poor work practices. Strained muscles can result in temporary discomfort or the development of more serious nerve and muscle conditions.