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Sprains are injuries to the soft tissue of joints, frequently involving the tearing of a ligament. A sprain commonly occurs when a ligament is stretched beyond its normal elastic capacity. Ligaments that are chronically overworked or exposed to sudden jerky actions, as is typical during sports participation, are most susceptible to injury. In fact, the most commonly sprained joint is the ankle because it turns, the foot folds under and the whole weight of the body suddenly shifts to the ankle. This produces brief stabbing pain and local swelling. Sprains can heal easily if you care for them properly; rest the joint and keep it well protected. If you do not, the joint may remain unstable, a condition known as "flail joint", and is likely to be turned and injured again and again. A torn ligament, if ignored, can affect the bone's alignment. Many natural treatments, from herbs to homeopathic remedies and compresses to baths, are available to relieve the acute pain and swelling of a sprain and to support healing of the tissue.

Arnica reduces pain
The extract of arnica flowers is an excellent remedy for strains, sprains, bruising, contusions and hematomas. The active components in arnica- bitters, essential oils, acids and coumarins, relieve pain, stop swelling and reduce bruising. Arnica extract is combined with oils, fats or alcohol to create salves, oils and tinctures for compresses and soothing rubs. Arnica is also at the basis of an important homeopathic remedy, Arnica Montana, which is very successful in healing strains, sprains and bruises. Do not use arnica on any open wounds or lacerations.

What you can do?
You can prevent injuries by warming up muscles for at least 15 minutes before any strenuous physical activity. Strengthening the muscles that support the joints is a key preventive measure. If you often suffer from sprains, support the joint with a bandage or elastic brace when it is under stress. On the first day after the injury, rest the joint. Begin to gently move the joint on the next day to encourage circulation.

All important RICE
To treat a sprain, immobilize and cool the joint immediately. Use a cold compress or an ice pack to constrict the blood vessels and reduce bruising and inflammation; never apply ice or cold sprays directly to the skin, as they can cause frostbite. Wrap the joint in an elastic bandage or brace and elevate it to decrease swelling. Doctors use the acronym RICE to describe the process. R for rest, I for icing, c for compression or bandaging and E for elevation. If the symptoms do not improve in a week, consult a physician.

Epsom salt soaks
Epsom salt reduces the swelling and pain of a sprained joint. Dissolve 2 or 3 cups of Epsom salts in hot water and soak the joint for 15-20 minutes three times a day.
Note: Do not soak until the initial swelling subsides, at least two days after the injury.

Follow up care
To provide additional support, use an elastic bandage to wrap the sprained joint for two to four weeks following the injury. When wrapping, make sure that the bandage allows for adequate circulation. Refrain from putting weight on the injured area until it no longer causes pain and the swelling has subsided.

First aid : Rescue salve, a flower essence remedy available in most health food stores, can provide amazingly quick relief for sprains. It is especially effective when applied immediately after the injury. A single application usually does the job.

Herbal remedies

  • Horse chestnut extract in gel or salve form quickly reduces swelling. Rub it on the injured area several times daily for soothing relief.
  • St. John's wort oil, available in drugstores, relieves pain and inflammation. Rub it on the sprain or apply compresses made by soaking a pad in the essential oil.
  • Confrey contains allontoin and mucins that help sprains heal. Fill a small linen sack with a handful of chopped comfrey roots. Heat it briefly in water, remove from heat and let it sit for 15 min. after it cools, place the sack on the injured area.
  • Peppermint oil contains cooling menthol. Massage it into the painful area several times a day.
  • Cayenne pepper increases circulation, warms the tissues and reduces pain.

Home remedies

  • Acetic clay compresses are a proven remedy for relieving pain. To make a thin paste, add water to 1 tbsp. of clay; soak a cotton towel in the clay paste and place the towel on the injury. Use a gauze bandage to hold in place.
  • A whole wheat pack warms injured muscles, tendons and ligaments after the initial acute phase by increasing circulation; it also helps bruises heal faster. Cook whole wheat flour and water into a thick paste. Apply the paste, as hot as is tolerable, to the injured area. Wrap with a cotton towel. Keep applied until paste has cooled.

Homeopathic remedies

Arnica 6X-30C can be an effective adjunct treatment. If an injury is severe, take a higher dose of 30C every 1-2 hr. For a mild sprain, take 6X every 2-3 hr. decrease as symptoms abate.