How To Treat A Sprain: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Aug 1, 2017

Hi!  I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician.  I’m here today with health tips on sprains.

Do you ever wonder why your parents and other adults tell you “no running’” when you’re just about to dash down a flight of stairs or speed through the aisles of a grocery store?  “No running” they call out right when you’re ready to race down the sidewalk.

Well of course they say that because you could get hurt.  One of the things that can happen is a sprain.

Sprain is spelled S-P-R-A-I-N .  Sprains are pretty common.  Millions of them happen every year in the United States – to both adults and children.

Wrapping a sprained join in an elastic bandage can help compress the swelling.
Credit Flickr User Jenn and Tony Bot (CC-BY-NC-2)

A sprain is an injury to a ligament.  Ligaments are strong, fibery cords that connect bones together. One end of a ligament is attached to one bone; the other end is attached to another bone.  Ligaments hold bones snuggly together and that makes a joint.  When you flex a joint, ligaments move with the bones and keep the joint connected.

There are over 300 joints in the human body, so just about anywhere you look, knees, toes, hands, shoulders, hips you’ll find a joint - and ligaments holding it together.  Every day, hundreds and thousands of times, your ligaments are stretching and bending and helping your joints move whenever you want.

Sometimes though you might make your ligaments move too far.  If you tumble down a flight of stairs, or fall over on the outside of your ankle playing soccer, if you twist your knee when you jump, the force could stretch a ligament further than it’s meant to go.  The ligament will get damaged and that’s called a sprain.  Sprains hurt.  They make the joint puffy and bruised looking.  Until the sprain heals, it will hurt to bend or use your joint. 

So what should you do if you hurt yourself and think it might be a sprain?

First, sit down and take a couple deep breaths.  This will help with the pain and will keep you calm so you can make good decisions.  Then, tell your parents or another adult what happened. 

With sprains, you don’t have to go to the doctor right away unless the pain is really, really bad.  Instead for a few days after the injury, do something called RICE,


R stands for rest.  Don’t use the injured joint.  Use crutches or a sling until you feel better.

I is for ice.  Put an ice bag around the joint.  First put a thin, dry cloth on your skin then put an ice bag on top of the cloth.  Leave the ice on for 10 minutes and repeat this several times a day. 

C is for compress.  Wrap your sprained joint with an elastic bandage.  This compresses the joint a little and makes it feel secure.  Always have your parents or another adult do this part because an elastic bandage should never be too tight.  It’s also a good idea to take the elastic bandage off at night while you are sleeping.

E stands for elevate.  Whenever you can, raise your injured joint and rest it on a soft pillow for 5 or 10 minutes.  Elevating a sprain makes the swelling go down and gets new blood to your joint.  That feels good!

You can also use Arnica, a medicine made from plants, to help your sprain.  Arnica comes in a cream or gel.  Rub it into your skin all around the injured joint three times a day.  Remember, always tell your parents and get their permission before you use Arnica - or any kind of medicine.

Do gentle stretches.  Slowly and carefully, move the joint a little bit, up and down, back and forth, around in a circle.  This will get blood to the joint and help you heal.

If after two or three days you’re not feeling a little better, it’s a good idea to go to the doctor for an exam.  You might need an x-ray or an MRI to diagnose your injury.

I certainly hope you don’t sprain anything any time soon.  But if you do, try RICE, Arnica, gentle stretches and feel better soon.

I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, and I’m wishing you well.