With Memorial Day approaching and the lazy, hazy days of summer not far behind, many will spend time enjoying outdoor activities.
Although there are many health benefits of outdoor sports, these activities also bring an increased risk of sprains, strains and fractures. While they can be extremely uncomfortable, sprains and strains are not usually as serious as fractures.
A sprain is defined as the stretching or tearing of a ligament, which connects bone to bone. A strain occurs when muscles and the tendons that connect muscle to bone are injured. Pain, swelling, bruising and discoloration are common with both sprains and strains and symptoms usually resolve within two or three weeks.
The RICE treatment (rest, ice, compression and elevation) is often recommended for sprains and strains. You should rest the injured body part for 24 to 48 hours following injury. Apply ice and a compression wrap, and elevate the injured body part to control swelling. Physicians may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, to control the pain and inflammation associated with these injuries.
The use of heat in these cases is somewhat controversial. While some medical professionals recommend applying heat 48 hours after injury, others feel heat contributes to swelling and ice is a better alternative.
A fracture, or broken bone, is a more serious injury. If visible bone punctures through the skin, it is called an open or compound fracture. Not all fractures are evident and X-rays are often required to confirm a fracture. All fractures should be treated by a physician, and some types often require splints, casts or surgical repair and may take weeks or months to heal.
The symptoms following injury make it difficult to distinguish between fractures, sprains and strains. While pain, swelling and discoloration are common to all three injuries, immediate and severe swelling may indicate a fracture or severe sprain. Both should be evaluated by a physician. Other symptoms that should immediately be reported are:
• Uncontrolled bleeding;
• Visible bone;
• Numbness or cold sensation in areas below the injury;
• Persistent pain after 24 hours;
• Severely impaired range of motion or inability to move a limb;
If you suspect a fracture or severe sprain, it is important to seek immediate medical care to avoid complications and improve chances of a full recovery.
Dr. Johnson specializes in emergency medicine and is on the active staff at Memorial Health Care System. Get information at www.memorialhcs.org.
Sources: WebMD and National Institutes of Health.