School Nurse Emergency Highlight - Sprain

Sprains are common and painful.

Ankle sprains are the most common single injury in high school sports.


  1. Sprained ligaments are painful and swell rapidly.
  2. Follow RICE procedure. (Rest injured limb. Ice injured area with ice pack to reduce swelling and pain. Compress injured area with firm elastic bandage. Elevate limb if it doesn’t cause more pain.)
  3. Call 000 if you think bone is broken, student is unable to walk, limb is angled or pain is severe. Provide constant reassurance while waiting for ambulance.


Frequently Asked Questions

How can I tell if a student has a sprain? Following a sudden unusual movement, the student may have pain, swelling and/or bruising around a joint. They may have difficulty in moving the limb. 

What are the most common sprains? Ankle and knee sprains occur most often.

How can I tell how severe the sprain is? The greater the pain and swelling, the more severe the injury.

What is the difference between an ice pack and a cold compress? An ice pack is ice or a parcel of frozen wrapped in protective plastic and/or fabric. A cold compress is a thick pad of absorbent cloth soaked in cold water and wrung out. 

How long should I leave the ice pack on the injury? No longer than 20 minutes. Never place ice directly on the skin because it is too cold.

What do I do after I put an ice pack on the injury? Support the injured area in a raised position and apply a bandage. The bandage should firmly (but not tightly) wrap around the injury. Periodically check that the bandage has not become tight.

I've heard that you can use a warm cloth or alternate between warm and cold treatment. Is this wrong? This is not recommended first aid. Ice is the most effective way of reducing the swelling.

What‘s the difference between a strain and a sprain? A strain is when a muscle is damaged. A sprain is when the ligament around a joint, such as a knee, ankle or wrist is damaged.

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