Sprains and strains are extremely common injuries that happen to everyone, accounting for nearly 1 million people attending Accident and Emergency in the UK in 2017/18*. But what is the difference between them, how serious are they and is A&E the right place to go?
In the UK, attendances to A&E for sprains and strains have risen every year and between 2013 – 2018, A&E saw an increase of 94,011 attendances, a 13% increase in attendances over the last five years.
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 are when the muscle has been overstretched and partially torn.
They are common conditions but there is a misconception surrounding the injuries, you rarely need to attend A&E. The best treatment option is to care for yourself at home, or visit your local pharmacist and 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 two to three hours.
Compression – wrap a bandage around the injury to support it.
Elevate – keep it 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 speak 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.
“Following our RICE advice you should start to feel better after two weeks. 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 help keep A&E for those who really need it, please visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sprains-and-strains/.