They are extremely common injuries that happen to everyone and accounted for nearly 1.5 million people attending Accident and Emergency in the UK in 2015/16*. But what is the difference between a sprain and a strain, how serious are they and is A&E the right place to go?
Both injuries affect the soft tissue around your joints with symptoms including pain, swelling, bruising and tenderness around the joint or in your muscle. Sprains refer to when a ligament has been twisted or torn while strains occur when the muscle has been overstretched and partially torn.
They are common conditions but there is a misconception surrounding the injuries and you rarely need to attend A&E. The best treatment option is to care for yourself at home or visit your local pharmacist.
NHS Sandwell and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is asking the public to save themselves an unnecessary trip in the event of a sprain or strain and instead use RICE therapy to treat themselves:
Rest – stop any exercise or activities and try not to put any weight on the injury.
Ice – apply an ice pack (or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a tea towel) to the injury for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
Compression – wrap a bandage around the injury to support it.
Elevate – keep the injured joint raised on a pillow as much as possible.
Follow the RICE therapy for four days as well as avoiding heat (such as hot baths), alcohol and massages to prevent too much swelling, and talk to your pharmacist who can suggest medication or gels to help aid your recovery.
Dr Nick Harding, Chair at NHS Sandwell and West Birmingham CCG wants members of the public to think twice before attending A&E for strains and sprains:
“If you are worried about your injury and need advice, talk to your local pharmacy or call NHS 111. They will listen to your symptoms and give you the necessary advice for care and treatment, which for strains and sprains will usually be RICE therapy or talking to your pharmacist.
“You should start to feel better after two weeks and you can prevent these types of injuries by ensuring you stretch properly before taking part in sport and other physical activities.”
For more information on how you treat strains and sprains, and to help keep A&E for those who really need it, please visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sprains-and-strains/.