Answered by Ingrid Ducmanis on Monday, June 1, 2009
Always ice a sprain in order to limit the amount of swelling that occurs immediately after an injury, says Malachy McHugh, Ph.D., research coordinator at Lenox Hill Hospital's Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma in New York City. Put your sprained part on the rocks for 10 to 20 minutes (no longer) several times a day—even as often as once an hour—for the first 24 to 48 hours after spraining it. "For best results, elevate the injured limb and place a wrap over the ice pack to apply some compression during icing," advises McHugh. "After removing the ice pack, reapply the wrap to prevent further swelling." How can you tell whether you've sprained rather than strained your aching joint? "A sprain refers to a stretch injury to a ligament—basically a partial tear—and the pain will therefore be in the joint." A strain is basically the same thing except it occurs in muscle and that's where you feel the pain. Either way, says McHugh, the treatment is the same: the big chill.