What are strains and sprains? 

Strains or sprains often happen when your child pushes a muscle too far. They can also happen as the result of a trip or fall.

Active children can strain or sprain a part of their body from activities like running around the garden, jumping or climbing over furniture or playing sport.

Your child may have a strain or sprain if:

  • They complain of sharp, immediate pain in a body part they’ve just used (e.g. ankle or wrist)
  • They are unable to put weight on a body part that was injured
  • They complain of pain in a body part after strenuous activity (e.g. playing sport)
  • The area of concern looks swollen

If you are concerned about your child’s symptoms, seek advice from your doctor.

What’s the difference between strains and sprains?

Although the pain may feel the same, strains and sprains are different conditions because they affect different structures in the body.

Strains are caused by damage to muscles or tendons (bands of tissue that join muscle to bone).

Sprains, on the other hand, are caused by damage to ligaments (strong bands of tissue that hold bones together). Ankles sprains are one of the most common injuries in children.

How should you relieve a sprain or strain?

Use the RICER principle immediately after your child suffers a strain or sprain:

  • Rest - Avoid moving or putting weight on the part of the body that has been strained or sprained to prevent further damage.
  • Ice - Use some ice wrapped in a towel to cool the affected area. The cold will help bring down swelling in the early stages. Apply for about 20 minutes every two hours for up to 48 hours.
  • Compression - Give the injury extra support by compressing the affected area with an elasticated bandage. When the injury is wrapped firmly, the pressure can reduce pain and swelling.
  • Elevation - Try to keep the injured area elevated above the level of your heart by placing it on a cushion or chair. This helps to reduce swelling.
  • Referral – If the swelling and pain does not ease within two days it is important you see your doctor to check if there is any further injury that needs attention and treatment.

Your child may need medicine to help with the pain of their sprain or strain. Nurofen for Children is suitable for children over 3 months and can provide temporary relief of pain associated with sprains and strains.

When should you contact a doctor?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a sprain and a broken bone, so take your child to see a doctor if you’re concerned or if the pain and swelling hasn’t improved after two days. It’s also important to seek medical advice if your child’s pain is not manageable at home.