Strains and sprains are injuries to the soft tissues of the body. Strains involve muscles or tendons (thick bands that attach muscles to bone). Strains often occur in the back, the hamstring, or the groin. Sprains are injuries to the ligaments, which are bands of cartilage that attach bone to bone. Sprains often occur in the ankles, knees, or wrists.

Symptoms of a strain or sprain include pain, swelling and bruising in the injured area. In general, the more severe the injury, the more severe the symptoms will be.

First aid care for sprains and sprains includes four steps. They are commonly referred to as “RICE:” 

R: Rest the affected body part. Use a splint, sling, or crutches, if possible.

I:  Ice the injured body part. Use a cold compress, a bag of frozen vegetables, or a baggie of ice cubes wrapped in a washcloth. Don’t put ice directly on the skin, as you can cause injury to the skin. Keep the ice on the area for about 20 minutes, three or four times a day for the first 48 hours.

C: Compress the injury (if possible) to decrease swelling. Use an elastic wrap to encircle the injured area, starting at the lower part of the injury and working upward toward the heart. As you wind the wrap around the injury, overlap it with each circle by half the width of the wrap. The wrap should be snug but not tight; if the person’s extremity is numb or tingling, or if the toes or fingers on the wrapped body part are cold or blue, the wrap is too tight. Loosen the wrap and begin again, wrapping more loosely.

E: Elevate the injured body part above the level of the heart.

Seek medical help immediately if the person is unable to bear weight at all or if pain is severe.