Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

First Aid & Emergencies

Font Size

Understanding Sprains and Strains -- Diagnosis and Treatment

How Do I Know If I Have a Sprain or Strain?

Sprains and strains, from twisted ankles to aching backs, are among the most common injuries. A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments, the tough, fibrous bands of tissue that connect bones to one another at a joint. A strain is a stretching or tearing of muscle tissue, commonly called a pulled muscle.

To diagnose a sprain or strain, your doctor will take a detailed medical history and do a physical exam of the affected area. Often, the history and exam are all that's needed. X-rays may help rule out a bone fracture. In some cases, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is advised to check for ruptured tissues.

Recommended Related to First Aid

Breathing Problems in Children

Is gasping for breath Can't cry or talk because of breathing trouble Grunts when breathing Has blue lips May have a small object caught in her throat Is breathing very fast (this is also a symptom of fever) Looks very sick

Read the Breathing Problems in Children article > >

What Are the Treatments for Sprains and Strains?

Treatment of both sprains and strains focuses on control of the initial pain and swelling, followed by adequate rest to allow healing.

Most sprains and strains heal in two to three weeks. Doctors routinely prescribe the RICE treatment -- rest, ice, compression, and elevation of the injured body part immediately following the injury -- along with aspirin or ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and pain.

Elastic bandages may then be used to support or immobilize the injured area while it heals. A sprained ankle or knee often calls for crutches to keep weight off the joint for a day or two while it heals. In some cases, bracing or casting is needed. To speed healing, your doctor may also recommend physical therapy after the initial swelling is controlled.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on March 12, 2014

First Aid A-Z

  • There are no topics that begin with 'O'
  • There are no topics that begin with 'Q'
  • There are no topics that begin with 'U'
  • There are no topics that begin with 'X'
  • There are no topics that begin with 'Y'
  • There are no topics that begin with 'Z'

Today on WebMD

Antibiotic on hand
Slideshow
3d scan of fractured skull
Slideshow
 
Father putting ointment on boy's face
Slideshow
Person taking food from oven
Q&A
 

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

sniffling child
Slideshow
wound care true or false
Slideshow
 
caring for wounds
Slideshow
Harvest mite
Slideshow
 

WebMD the app

Get first aid information. Whenever. Wherever... with your iPhone, iPad or Android.

Find Out More