Sprains and strains are common injuries affecting the muscles and ligaments. Most can be treated at home without seeing a GP.
It’s likely to be a sprain or strain if:
For the first couple of days, follow the 4 steps known as RICE therapy to help bring down swelling and support the injury:
To help prevent swelling, try to avoid heat (such as hot baths and heat packs), alcohol and massages for the first couple of days.
When you can move the injured area without pain stopping you, try to keep moving it so the joint or muscle does not become stiff.
Speak to a pharmacist about the best treatment for you. They might suggest tablets, or a cream or gel you rub on the skin.
If needed, you can take ibuprofen tablets, capsules or syrup that you swallow.
After 2 weeks, most sprains and strains will feel better.
Avoid strenuous exercise such as running for up to 8 weeks, as there’s a risk of further damage.
Severe sprains and strains can take months to get back to normal.
Sprains and strains happen when you overstretch or twist a muscle.
Not warming up before exercising, tired muscles and playing sport are common causes.
You’ve had an injury and:
111 will tell you what to do. They can tell you the right place to get help if you need to see someone.
Urgent treatment centres are places you can go if you need to see someone now.
They’re also called walk-in centres or minor injuries units.
You may be seen quicker than you would at A&E.
If you need treatment for a sprain or strain you may be given self-care advice or prescribed a stronger painkiller.
You may need an X-ray, which can sometimes be done at an urgent treatment centre, or you may be referred to hospital.
If you have a sprain or strain that’s taking longer than usual to get better, a GP may be able to refer you to a physiotherapist.
Physiotherapy from the NHS might not be available everywhere and waiting times can be long. You can also get it privately.
If you have a sprain or strain, you might be able to refer yourself directly to services for help with your condition without seeing a GP.
To find out if there are any services in your area:
You may have broken a bone and will need an X-ray.
Page last reviewed: 10-02-2021
Next review due:10-02-2024