Sprain or Strain

What do I do if ...

I have a sprain or strain?

If you have injured yourself within the last 48 hours, RICE treatment (see below) can be effective in reducing pain and minimizing swelling around the injury. RICE treatment may also be used by athletes to decrease inflammatory response in overuse injuries.

Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) decrease inflammation.  Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) only decreases pain and does not decrease inflammation. After the first two days, gently begin to use the injured area. You should see gradual improvement and decreased pain in the affected area.

Mild and moderate sprains usually heal in two to four weeks. If pain, swelling or instability persists, or if you are unsure of the severity of your sprain or strain, talk to a doctor before beginning any treatment.

Steps for the RICE method


Avoid activities that cause pain, swelling or discomfort. Don’t eliminate all physical activity, but give yourself relative rest.


Ice the area immediately. Use an ice bag for 15 to 20 minutes each time and repeat every two to three hours while you're awake for the first 48 to 72 hours. Cold reduces pain, swelling and inflammation in injured muscles, joints, and connective tissues. If the area turns white, stop treatment immediately. If you have vascular disease, diabetes or decreased sensation, talk with your doctor before applying ice.


To reduce swelling, compress the area with an elastic bandage until the swelling stops. Do not wrap it too tightly or you may hinder circulation. Loosen the wrap if the pain increases, the area becomes numb, or swelling increases.


To reduce swelling, elevate the injured area above the level of your heart, especially at night. Gravity helps reduce swelling by draining excess fluid.