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How to Heal a Sprain Injury Faster

Whether it’s from colliding with a friend while playing ultimate frisbee, slipping on the stairs at work, or tripping over the vacuum cleaner cord while tidying up the house, an ankle sprain can be debilitating.

The good news is, sprain treatment can usually provide relief in a matter of days.

As the most frequently seen musculoskeletal injury by primary care providers in the United States, more than 23,000 people per day require medical attention for ankle sprains.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for sprains to happen in the workplace, where slips, trips, and falls account for one-third of all personal injuries. 

How Inflammatory Response Works

If you’ve ever sprained your ankle or wrist, you’ve no doubt experienced pain and swelling.

While uncomfortable, these symptoms are part of the body’s natural sprain treatment, an inflammatory response process that removes damaged cells and tissues and promotes healing.

While it’s understandable that you will want to minimize the pain, it’s important to let your body follow its natural process to fix itself.

There are five stages your body will cycle through during the inflammatory response:

  • Pain (caused by sensitive nerves)
  • Heat (redness caused by increased blood flow to the area)
  • Swelling (caused by increased fluid in the tissue)
  • Loss of function

Adjusting the R.I.C.E. Method to New Finds in Medicine

For decades, sprain treatment has included rest, ice, compression, and elevation, otherwise known as the RICE method. But new research suggests this may not be the best approach, as too much rest and ice can prolong the healing process. For sprain treatment at home, many experts now recommend a variation of RICE known as the POLICE method:

  • Protect: For at least 24 hours after a sprain, it’s important to protect the muscle by limiting its use. This allows scar tissue to form a bridge between the torn strands of muscle fibers. Protection can also take the form of using a crutch or brace while resuming daily activity.
  • Optimal Loading: While protecting the injured area, do gentle movements such as flexing and extending to help promote healing and prevent muscle tightness or atrophy.
  • Ice: Using ice as a sprain treatment can help reduce both swelling and pain, but too much ice can slow down the healing process, so use sparingly.
  • Compression: Wrap the injured area in an ACE bandage to help flush out fluid build-up.  
  • Elevation: Propping up the injured area helps the body absorb fluid that has leaked into the tissue.

The POLICE method deviates slightly from RICE in that there is less rest and more movement to help decrease stiffness and help you get moving again quickly.

What to Avoid While Healing

While your first step in sprain treatment may be to reach for an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen, you may want to think twice.

Some recent studies have suggested that NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) might stop the body’s natural response, which is to increase the flow of blood to the area to promote healing.

If NSAIDs aren’t used, other types of pain medication, like acetaminophen (Tylenol), can be helpful in easing any discomfort.

How GoHealth Urgent Care Can Help

It’s often difficult to tell the difference between a sprain and more serious injury, like a fracture, which would require an X-ray to detect.

See a medical professional if you experience the following:

  • Severe or uncontrolled pain, in spite of over-the-counter medications, elevation, and ice.
  • You cannot walk without severe pain.
  • Your injury doesn’t improve within five to seven days.

It’s advisable to visit your local GoHealth Urgent Care one to two weeks after a sprain to get help with flexibility and strengthening exercises.

Managing sprain injuries properly can help them heal — and get you back to normal activity — faster.

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