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Physical Therapy for Sprains and Strains


WRITTEN BY:
Monday, March 10th, 2014

Sprains and strains are common injuries that can be caused by a number of things, such as falls, twists, or general overuse. A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament, whereas a strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon.

Both can be painful injuries that may cause swelling and require medical attention, according to Trevor Delaney, DPT, director of the UPMC Centers for Rehab Services Oakland location.

If you think you have a sprain or strain, Dr. Delaney suggests following the RICE principle.

“During the first 24 to 48 hours, the RICE principle can be helpful for any sprain or strain,” he says. “It is important to minimize use of the affected area initially and avoid any activities that cause increased pain.”

RICE stands for:

  • Rest – minimize use of the area.
  • Ice – apply for periods of 10-15 minutes every three hours.
  • Compression – use a compression bandage but be careful not to make it too tight.
  • Elevation – the affected area should be higher than the level of your heart to reduce swelling.

“Therapies for a strain or sprain will be similar and different, but both will focus on decreasing symptoms and restoring function,” Dr. Delaney says.

Physical therapy for a sprain will vary depending on the degree of the sprain. Treatment to minimize swelling and pain, and promote function may include:

  • Therapeutic exercises to strengthen and stretch the muscles surrounding the affected joint
  • Joint mobilization techniques performed by the therapist to the affected joint
  • Heat, ice, and/or electrical stimulation

Physical therapy for a strain will also vary depending on the degree of the strain. Treatment can include:

  • Therapeutic exercises to stretch and strengthen both the involved and surrounding muscles
  • Soft tissue mobilization to break up fibrous tissue and scar tissue
  • Heat and/or ice as needed to control swelling and pain

“For strains, the goal is allowing the injured muscle to heal while preventing a large buildup of scar tissue,” Dr. Delaney says. “Once the injured muscle can resume strength exercises, we work to restore that strength.”

Dr. Delaney notes that for both sprains and strains, treatment will also include educating the patient about the injury and ways to prevent injury in the future.

It’s important to remember that the length of therapy varies by patient, and your doctor will determine a time frame based on the severity of your injury.