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Strain or Sprain, It's a Pain

May 31, 1999|BARBARA J. CHUCK

Sprain, strain. When you're hurting, they might sound the same, but they're not. A strain injures muscles or tendons; a sprain injures ligaments. But self-care for both types of ailments is basically the same. You're a candidate to be in charge of your own healing if you can say "yes" to all of the following:

* You're able to move the affected limb or joint.

* There's limited, if any, bruising.

* Swelling may be apparent, but you don't feel pain while the limb or joint is at rest.

* The affected area doesn't tingle or feel numb.

Recovery from a strain or a sprain can take six to eight weeks. Don't rush the process, or you'll be sorry: A re-injury can further weaken the limb or joint. Once healing is underway, gradually return to normal activities.

Support the injured area: Wrap the area--not too tightly, though, or you might cut off blood supply--for short, necessary activities until you can bear weight on the area. Use a sling to support an injured wrist, elbow or shoulder. Try elastic bandages on ankles and knees. Tape an injured toe or finger to the one next to it.

Rest and elevate: Raise the injured area above your heart to limit swelling, and try to avoid unnecessary movement.

Use cold and heat: Both reduce pain, and cold reduces swelling. Apply ice or a cold pack--placing a towel between it and your body--for 10 to 15 minutes every hour you're awake for the first two days following the injury. After the swelling goes down, use cold or heat (such as a hot-water bottle) to relieve pain.

Take medications if needed. Over-the-counter drugs can reduce swelling and control pain. (Don't give aspirin to a child 18 or younger unless it's prescribed by a doctor.)

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