Contusions & Sprains

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What are contusions and sprains? Contusions, or bruises, are damage to skin, muscle or bone where there is no break in the skin. Commonly these may appear “black-and-blue”. Sprains are injuries from excess stretching of ligaments supporting joints.

How do they occur?

Falling or being struck with an object can commonly cause contusions and abnormal twisting of joints can cause sprains. In general, contusions and sprains can be caused by any force that is strong enough to distort tissues or organs beyond their physiologic limits.

What are the symptoms?

  • Pain at the injury site
  • Swelling (also called edema)
  • Decrease range of motion of a joint

Prevention

Varies based on cause. Removal of area rugs if someone in the home has trouble with walking. Keeping a night light on so obstacles are visible. Wearing seatbelts and helmets when driving/riding in a car, or riding a bicycle/motorcycle.

Diagnosis

Usually done by the symptoms patient is having, how injury occurred (mechanism of injury), physical exam, and x-rays may be useful if a broken bone is suspected.

Treatment

All sprains and contusions are not treated in the same manner as some are more severe and disabling than others. Application of a cold compress for 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours in the first 2 to 3 days after the injury can reduce pain and swelling, as well as elevating the injured area. Applying a warm compress may be more beneficial for neck and back sprains. Sometimes an area may need to be immobilized with a splint for rest, comfort and time to heal. Crutches or canes may be used to take weight of of leg injuries. For more severe injuries physical therapy may be helpful to regain normal function (strength and range of motion).

Medications

For minor pain you may use nonprescription analgesics such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) as directed. If there is spasm a muscle relaxer may be prescribed. For more severe pain opioids such as tramadol or oxycodone may be used briefly.

Activity

Begin using the injured body part when you can do so comfortably. We say, “use but not abuse”. Persons should recover fully with treatment and good sense. Following up is usually as needed if symptoms persist or worsen. Full recovery from uncomplicated sprains and contusions is usually in a few weeks to months.

Seek immediate care if symptoms worsen especially if you have loss of function.