Sprains and strains are common injuries in children. Sometimes these injuries resolve with a little care at home, but often, sprains and strains should be examined to rule out further complications. Teens are more at risk than young children, but injuries affect both age groups.
A sprain is an injury to a ligament, while a strain refers to injuries of muscles or tendons. Sprains commonly affect wrists, knees, and ankles, typically caused by a fall or the tearing of a ligament. Strains often happen by a child overstretching, which can tear a tendon or muscle.
Symptoms of sprains and strains can vary from child to child and depend greatly on the extent of the injury. Most children show one or more symptoms, such as:
- Pain in the muscle or joint (low to severe)
- Bruising, redness, or discoloration
- Warmth around the area
- Weakness or difficulty using the injured area
These symptoms should be taken seriously and treated properly. Most should decrease after 7 days and be completely resolved after 2 weeks; if not, consult a medical professional.
Treating Sprains and Strains
Treatment of sprains and strains in children varies depending on the severity and the symptoms. Immediate recommended treatment can be remembered using the acronym RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Pain medicine such as ibuprofen can also be used.
Other treatments include:
- Physical therapy
- Cast or splint
- Wheelchair (if severe)
- Surgery if the injury cannot heal or is recurring
When to See a Doctor
Injuries such as sprains and strains may not always need serious attention but should often be looked at to make sure. Keep an eye on the injury and provide approved medication or support when needed.
Always seek medical attention if your child:
- Experiences intense pain when the injured area is moved/touched
- Has severe or increasing bruising
- Shows signs of infection
- “Pin and needles,” tingling, or numbness
- Has a limb that looks broken, bent, or misplaced/misaligned
- Cannot hold their weight
- Does not show improvement after a week
Never overlook any of these symptoms. The sooner your child is treated, the sooner they can recover and the less long-term effects the injury will cause.
How to Prevent Sprains and Strains
Sports injuries are a big cause of strains and sprains among children and teens. Overuse of muscles and joints is common during physical activity, so teaching your child to warm up properly before activities — and when to stop — is important.
Ways to help your child include being sure they:
- Warm up, train, and prepare for physical activity correctly
- Use and wear the proper equipment
- Take rest days and time off as needed
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Avoid physical activity when feeling pain or fatigue
Parents should make sure their child is taking care of their health in addition to having fun, whether playing competitive sports or just being a kid.
If your child shows signs of a concerning sprain or strain, get in touch with a professional as soon as possible to assess the severity and prescribe treatment.