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Section I–Common Health Problems - Sprains, Strains & Sports Injuries

HealthyLife® Students' Self-Care Guide

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 Section I–Common Health Problems

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Sprains, Strains & Sports

“We were playing
football on a Saturday after-noon when one guy dislocated a shoulder. You
could tell because it was 3 inches lower than the other shoulder. We iced
it and took him to the health service.”

P., University of the Pacific

Signs, Symptoms & Causes


A sprain happens when you overstretch or tear a ligament (fibrous tissue
that connects bones). A joint is affected, but there is no dislocation or

Sprains usually occur from an accident, injury, or fall. Symptoms are
rapid pain, swelling, bruising, and a warm feeling at the injured site.


A strain is an injury to the muscles or tendons (tissues that connect
muscles to bones). A strain usually occurs when you overstretch or overexert
a muscle or tendon (not a ligament). This is usually caused by overuse and
injuries, including sports injuries. Symptoms are pain, tenderness,
swelling, and bruising.

You can have a sprain and strain at the same time, such as an ankle
sprain that causes strain on the Achilles tendon.

Sports Injuries

Achilles tendon pain is caused by a
stretch or tear or irritation to the tendon that connects the calf
muscles to the back of the heel.

Blisters are due to friction, such as
from poor fitting shoes or socks.

Muscle soreness occurs when you have
worked out too hard and too long.

Shinsplints are mild to severe aches in
front of the lower leg.

Stress fractures are microfractures,
which usually involve the bones of the feet or legs. They are usually
caused by a sudden increase in the amount of weight bearing exercise.

Sports injury symptoms vary depending on the
injury. They include pain, tenderness, swelling, and bruising. Bones may be
broken or dislocated.


Treatment depends on the injury and the extent of damage. Self-care may
suffice for mild injuries.

Sports injuries and sprains may require medical treatment. Some sprains
require a cast. Others may need surgery if the tissue affected is torn.

Broken bones (other than broken toes) need immediate medical care.

Questions to Ask

Is a head, neck, or spinal injury
suspected by any of the following symptoms?

  • Paralysis

  • Inability to open and close the
    fingers or move the toes

  • Feelings of numbness in the legs,
    arms, shoulders, or any other part of the body

  • Appearance that the head, neck, or
    back is in an odd position

  • Immediate neck pain

If any of the above symptoms exist, tell the victim to lie still and
not move his or her head, neck, back, etc. Place rolled towels,
articles of clothing, etc. on both sides of the neck and/or body. Tie
and wrap in place, but don’t interfere with the victim’s breathing. If
necessary, use both of your hands, one on each side of the victim’s
head, to keep the head from moving. Call 9-1-1!}

Did a strain or sprain occur with great force from
a vehicle accident or a fall from a high place?


Are any of these signs present?

  • A bone sticks out or bones in the
    injured part make a grating sound.

  • An injured body part looks crooked or

  • A loss of feeling occurs in the
    injured body part.

  • You are unable to move or put weight
    on the injured part.


Are any of these signs present?

  • The skin around the injury turns blue
    and/or feels cold and numb.

  • Bad pain and swelling occur or the
    pain gets worse.

  • Pain is felt when you press along the
    bone near the injury.

If you are in a sports program and you have an injury, contact your


Does the sprain or strain not improve
after using self-care measures for 4 days?



To Prevent Serious
Injuries (especially during contact sports):

Wear the right protective gear and
clothing for the sport. Items to wear include a helmet, shoulder, knee,
and wrist pads, a mouth guard, etc.

Train in the sport so you learn how to
avoid injury. “Weekend athletes” are prone to injury.

Follow the rules that apply to the

General Prevention:

Ease into any exercise program. Increase
activity gradually.
Do warm-up stretching exercises before the
activity. Stretch and hold for at least 30 seconds. Don’t bounce.
Wear proper-fitting shoes that provide
shock absorption and stability.
Avoid running on hard surfaces like
asphalt and concrete. Run on flat surfaces instead of uphill. Running
uphill aggravates the stress put on the Achilles tendon.
Use the softest surface available when you
Wear shoes and socks that fit well. The
widest area of your foot should match the widest area of the shoe. You
should also be able to wiggle your toes with the shoe on, in both a
sitting and standing position. The inner seams of the shoe should not
rub against areas of your feet.
Avoid locking your knees. When jumping,
land with your knees bent.
Don’t overdo it. Stop if you feel pain.
Cool down after exercise. Do the activity
at a slower pace for 5 minutes.

To Treat a Sprain,
Strain, or Sports Injury:

If the injury does not appear serious,
stop what you are doing and use R.I.C.E.:

Rest the injured area as much as possible for 24 to 48 hours.

Ice the injured area as soon as possible.

  • Use a bag of frozen vegetables, an ice
    pack, or put ice in a heavy plastic bag with a little water. Wrap the
    ice pack in a towel before placing it on the injured area.

  • Apply the ice pack to the injured area
    for 10 minutes every 2 hours for the next 48 hours during nonsleeping

Apply a snug elastic bandage to the injured area. Numbness, tingling, or
increased pain means the bandage is too tight. Remove the bandage every 3
to 4 hours and leave it off for 15 to 20 minutes each time.

Raise the injured area above heart level.

an elastic
bandage to compress the injured area.

Take an over-the-counter medicine for
pain, if necessary. (See “OTC Medications for "Pain relief").

Many sports medicine providers do not recommend aspirin-like medication
initially, because it can aggravate bleeding and bruising.}

If you sprained a finger or hand, remove
rings. (If you don’t and your fingers swell up, the rings may have to be
cut off.)
Try liniments and balms. These provide a
cooling or warming sensation. These ointments only mask the pain of sore
muscles, though. They do not promote healing.
Once the injured area begins to heal, do
M.S.A. techniques:

Work to establish a full range of motion as soon as possible after an
injury. This will help maintain flexibility during healing and prevent
scar tissue formed by the injury from limiting future performance.

Gradually strengthen the injured area once the inflammation is controlled
and a range of motion is back.

Activities. Do regular exercise using activities that do not strain the
injured part. Start this a few days after the injury, even though the
injured part is still healing.

crutches only
when it is too painful to bear weight.

For Information, Contact:

MEDLINEplus® Health Information
Search for “First Aid/Emergencies.”

6th edition. American Institute for Preventive Medicine
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December 08, 2005