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Questions and answers about strains and sprains

Here are some questions people often ask about strains and sprains. If you have a question that isn’t answered here, please feel free to email us at firstaid@redcross.org.uk or use this form.

Q

If I don't have any ice, what can I use?

Answer
Answer

If you don’t have any ice you can use some frozen vegetables wrapped in a tea-towel, for example.

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Q

How long should I apply an ice pack to the injury for?

Answer
Answer

No longer than 10 minutes; anything over 10 minutes can cause further damage.

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Q

Should I call an ambulance?

Answer
Answer

Most strains and sprains will feel better after rest and cooling. If you suspect that the bone is broken, there are other injuries, or the injury does not improve, seek medical advice.

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Q

I was taught that to treat a strain or sprain, I should use R.I.C.E. Can I still use this?

Answer
Answer
Yes, R.I.C.E. is a great way to remember how to treat a strain or sprain. The letters in RICE stand for:

Rest
Ice
Comfortable support (such as an elasticated bandage)
Elevate
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Q

What do I do after I have put an ice pack on the injury?

Answer
Answer

Support the injured part of the body in a raised position and apply a bandage. The bandage should not be tightly wrapped around the injury.  Periodically check that the bandage has not become tight.

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Q

I’ve heard that you can use a warm cloth or alternate between warm and cold treatment. Is this wrong?

Answer
Answer

This is not recommended first aid. An ice pack is the most effective way of reducing the swelling.

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Q

How can I tell if someone has a strain or sprain?

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Answer

Strains and sprains are common injuries where there has been a sudden movement to part of the body. The person may have pain, swelling and or bruising around a joint or muscle. If the injury is at a joint the person may have difficulty in moving a limb.

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Q

What’s the difference between a strain and a sprain?

Answer
Answer

A strain is when a muscle is damaged. A sprain is when a joint, such as a knee, ankle or wrist is damaged.

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