If you have an active kid who is physically hard at play or does sports in school, he will probably get a strain or a sprain at some point of his life. These two injuries sound alike but have a slight difference as to the area of involvement.

What makes the movement of the body possible are the muscles which are attached to the bones. Muscles are much like that of a rubber band. They contract, stretch, and relax to help the body move. When the muscle is overstretched, like when your child attempts to lift a heavy object, a strain is produced. Thus, strains happen when a lot of pressure is put on the muscle, causing it to be excessively stretched beyond its maximum limit. Sometimes, the muscle is partially torn, accompanied by bleeding into the surrounding tissues, which can lead to pain, swelling, and bruising.

A sprain, on the other hand, is a tearing of the ligament. Ligaments are fibrous cords that connect bones at a joint. The tear could be near or at the joint itself. This is often due to a sudden twisting motion that pulls the adjoining bones in the joint too far apart, tearing the surrounding tissues. A common example is when someone trips off or falls, twisting his ankle, causing ligaments in the ankle to be partially torn.

Strains and sprains should be treated initially by the “RICE” procedure:

R- Rest the injured part
I – Apply Ice or a cold compress
C – Compress the injury
E – Elevate the injured part

The primary aim in the first aid management of strain and sprain is to reduce swelling, pain, and bruising. Here’s what you should do:

Step 1. Advise the casualty to sit or lie down (rest). Do not let your child walk on a hurt ankle or leg, or perhaps let him use his hurting arm. Instead, support the injured part in a comfortable position. You may use your knee to support, for example, an injured leg.

Step 2. If the injury has just happened, cool the area by applying an ice pack or cold compress (ice) . Cooling an injury will not relieve the injury itself but can greatly reduce swelling and pain.

There are 2 types of compress: cold pads, which are made from material (e.g. towel) dampened with cold water; and ice packs, which are cold items (such as ice cubes) wrapped in a dry cloth. Remember to always wrap an ice pack in a cloth, and do not use it for more than 10 minutes at one application to avoid cold injury.

Step 3. Apply gentle, even pressure (compression) to the injured part by surrounding the area with a thick layer of soft padding, such as cotton wool or plastic foam. Then, secure this layer of padding with a bandage. Remember to check the circulation beyond the bandaging every 10 minutes. This is essential because limbs swell after an injury, and the bandage can rapidly become too tight and interfere with blood circulation to the area distal to it.

To check the circulation: (a) Briefly press one of the nails or the skin until it turns pale, then release the pressure. If the color does not return to pinkish or returns slowly, it means the bandage maybe too tight. (b) Loosen the bandage by unrolling just enough for warmth and color to return which can be felt by the casualty as a tingling sensation, then reapply the bandage.

Step 4. Raise (elevate) and support the injured part on a stable object. This is done to decrease the flow of blood to the injury, thus minimizing bruising in the area.

Sometimes, it can be hard to tell a sprain from a bone fracture, so it is always a good idea to see a doctor. The doctor will usually order an x-ray of the injured part to rule out broken bones. Management of bone fractures is a whole lot different from the management of sprain and strain. Furthermore, to reduce the pain, you may give your child pain reliever such as Acetaminophen.

Usually a strain takes about one week to heal, while a sprain may take longer depending on the severity of the sprain. This sequence of priorities in giving first aid treatment to strains and sprains can make a big difference in the outcome of healing, as well as to the comfort of your child.