Weekend warriors: Treat strains and sprains with RICE

  • author name Abby L. Gryskowiec, MPT
Knee pain

Back pain. A sore ankle. A twisted knee. Whether the culprit was a home improvement project, a set of tennis, or an early morning run, strains and sprains are common injuries for weekend warriors. Learn the difference between strains and sprains and what you can do to ease the pain.

Strains vs. sprains

Both strains and sprains result in inflammation and can involve almost any part of the body. Here’s the difference:

  • A strain involves muscles or tendons which connect muscles to bones, and often occurs in the lower back.
  • A sprain involves ligaments which connect bone to bone, and most commonly occurs in the ankle.

How do strains and sprains occur?

A strain can be acute or chronic. An acute strain results when your muscle or tendon pulls unexpectedly, such as from lifting a heavy object. A chronic strain can occur from repetitive motions such as prolonged lifting.

A sprain takes place when you overextend a ligament and stress the joint. For example, when you twist an ankle as you try to slam dunk a basketball.

In either case, you can experience a variety of symptoms, including pain, swelling, bruising, muscle spasms, and a limited ability to move the joint or muscle. You may even have heard or felt a “pop” when the injury occurred.

Treating minor injuries with RICE

You can take care of a minor strain or sprain yourself if you follow the RICE approach: Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation.

But if you can’t walk without significant pain, can’t move the joint, or have numbness, you should see your doctor, who may recommend physical therapy.

Physical therapists can assist in the natural healing process of your strain or sprain. The first goal of treatment is to reduce swelling and pain using the RICE approach. The second goal is to speed recovery toward normal function through an individualized therapeutic exercise program, including range-of-motion and strength exercises, and education.

Your physician, physical therapist, and you will determine the best plan so you can safely return to your weekend-warrior activities—and hopefully remain free of strains and sprains.

author name

Abby L. Gryskowiec, MPT

Abby L. Gryskowiec, MPT, is a physical therapist with Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Her areas of interest include industrial rehab, spine care, and orthopedics.

Education: Master of Science in Physical Therapy–University of Nebraska.

Call: 717-544-2300

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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