First Aid: Sprains
A sprain is a stretching or tearing of the ligaments that hold a joint together. Sprains are often difficult to distinguish from broken bones (fractures). The symptoms of both include:
• Immediate, often severe pain
• Swelling or bruising of the joint
• Pain when the ankle is moved; an inability to stand on the injured leg.
If in any doubt, treat as for a broken bone.
Although the wrist, elbow, knee, hip and shoulder can all suffer sprains, the ankle is the joint that people most often sprain. A fall or stumble that makes the ankle bend or twist excessively can sprain (or break) it.
If you think you have sustained a fracture or a sprain, remove the shoe and raise the foot above the heart. If you are near a source of ice or cold water, limit the swelling by applying a cold compress to the ankle for 20 to 30 minutes. Then bandage the ankle firmly and see a doctor as soon as possible.
A cold compress helps to decrease swelling of the soft tissue surrounding the injury. Once started, it should be applied several times a day for 15 to 20 minutes at a time during the first 48 hours after the injury.
Don't apply heat to the ankle or soak it in hot water for the first 48 hours after the injury. Don't put weight on a sprained or fractured ankle if you can help it. If you're a long way from help, support the ankle with a support dressing (below) before using it.
Support For A Sprained Ankle
If you injure your ankle out on a hike or away from help, cool the foot if possible, for example, by immersing in water. If you can find a strip of bandage or cloth, bind it in a figure-of-8 pattern under and over the instep and heel as shown above. After cooling, put your shoe and sock on for support until you can get home and give proper treatment as described above.
Other Types Of Sprains
If you sprain your wrist, elbow, or shoulder, apply ice and compresses to the joint and bandage it firmly. Then support it - above the level of the heart, if possible - with a sling. Have the injury checked as soon as possible by a doctor to make certain there is no fracture.
How To Make An Arm Sling
You need a triangular bandage or a square of strong fabric measuring about 1 meter x 1 meter folded diagonally into a triangular shape.
Get the person to sit down if possible. Ask them to support the injured arm by holding it across their chest and, if possible, slightly raised. Apply the sling as follows:
Ask the injured person to support the injured arm with their hand. As they do so, place the sling between their arm and chest.
Take the upper end of the bandage over the shoulder on their uninjured side. Take it around the back of the neck. Bring the lower end of the bandage up to meet it and tie both together.
Twist and tuck in the point near the elbow.
Related First Aid Treatments
How to treat alcohol poisoning: First aid treatment.
How to treat burns: Immediate remedies for burns.
How to treat poisoning: From gas, medicines, drug overdose.
How to stop someone choking: Different techniques explained.
How to treat someone with electric shock: Safety information.
How to treat food poisoning: Recognizing the signs and treatment.
How to treat seizures: Signs and treatment.
• Other health issues? See: How to treat common illnesses.
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