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Sprains and Strains

For some of us, a strained or sprained muscle (if it’s mild) can be a badge of honor. We feel proud that at 40-something we can rub a shoulder dramatically and complain we played too many innings of baseball or too many sets of tennis. I remember treating the strained shoulder of an octogenarian who was bursting to tell me how it had occurred during an evening of vigorous sex. More serious strains and sprains are too painful to occasion boasting. Instead, they may require specialized medical help. Sprains particularly can take a long time to heal, and ligaments (bands that connect bones to each other at the joints) that are injured may remain weak and prone to reinjury.
The supplement and lifestyle suggestions we offer at WholeHealth Chicago are helpful for both mild and serious muscle strains and sprains, and they can complement any medical treatment.

What are Strains and Sprains?
Strains are minor injuries to muscles. When a muscle is overstretched, some of its fibers may tear, resulting in what is commonly called a “pulled muscle.” Depending on how much damage has been done to the muscle fibers, the strain may be nothing more than a nuisance, or so severe that it causes sharp pain as well as a loss of power and movement. Strains occur most often in the calf, thigh, groin, or shoulder. Sprains, which are more serious and more painful than strains, are injuries to ligaments (the bands that connect bones at the joints). When the bones adjacent to a joint are twisted or pushed too far, these ligaments can tear. Because sprains may involve damage to muscles and tendons (the tissue that connects muscles to bones), they take longer to heal. They may also throw bones out of alignment, in turn damaging the surrounding tissue. Like strains, sprains vary in severity–from minor tears to complete ruptures. Sprains are most common in the knee, ankle, shoulder, and the joints of the fingers.

In most cases, minor strains fully heal on their own with rest. Sprains, on the other hand, usually require attention to reduce swelling and relieve pain. Orthopedic surgeons may treat severe sprains just as they would a fracture, complete with applying a plaster cast for several weeks, and prescribing physical therapy once the cast has been removed Because severe sprains can leave ligaments weakened, they may lead to recurring injuries.

Key Symptoms


  • Stiffness, soreness, and tenderness, occurring several hours after the injury
  • Swelling of the injured muscle
  • Slight skin discoloration, appearing several days later


  • Mild to severe pain at the time of the injury
  • Tenderness and swelling of the joint
  • Bruising, visible at the time of the injury or up to several hours later
  • Lack of motion or pain in the injured joint

What Causes Strains and Sprains?
Strains and sprains can result from many kinds of accidents, but often they are the price paid by “weekend (weakened) athletes” who are overzealous and poorly conditioned.

Strains occur when a muscle is overstretched or overextended. This can be triggered by any of a number of movements or activities–lifting a heavy object improperly, overswinging a golf club, sprinting to catch a bus, overstretching before a workout. The likelihood of a strain increases with obesity, poor muscle tone, or reduced blood flow to the muscles, which can result from cold, fatigue, or immobilization in a cast.

Sprains occur when a muscle, tendon, or ligament is subjected to sudden force. This can happen as a result of any unexpected movement, such a fall or twist. Once injured, a ligament is vulnerable to future sprains.

Treatment and Prevention
Most mild to moderate strains and minor sprains can be handled at home. In severe cases, however, the ligament may not heal completely. Not only does this bring constant pain, it also can make the affected joint unstable. To improve the chances for complete healing, doctors may use an elastic bandage or a plaster cast to immobilize the joint. A sprained ankle or knee may even require the use of crutches to keep weight off the joint. And a badly torn ligament may actually require surgical intervention. Some physicians are now using a form of treatment called prolotherapy. When the situation is appropriate, they may inject a substance that actually induces scarring directly into the ligament to stimulate the healing process.

In addition, a number of alternative therapies can be very useful for relieving sprains and strains. Depending on the injury, these can include acupuncture, massage therapies, chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, and possibly a bodywork technique called rolfing.

In general, the goals of any treatment are to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, heal damaged tissue, and strengthen the injured area. In addition to over-the-counter analgesics, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, a variety of natural supplements and self-care remedies can be beneficial. All of these supplements can be taken together and in conjunction with conventional painkillers. In most cases, they are needed only for a week or so.

How Supplements Can Help
High doses of vitamin A, taken for five days, will help the body process protein and repair damaged tissue.

Two antioxidants–vitamin C and flavonoids–will to promote healing and limit further injury to connective tissues and muscles.

Glucosamine, which helps build cartilage (the body’s natural shock absorber), will help strengthen and protect the joints and ligaments.

Bromelain, an enzyme derived from pineapple, serves as a natural anti-inflammatory and promotes blood circulation.

Topical creams or ointments containing homeopathic arnica, a plant extract, will help relieve sore muscles and reduce swelling. Oral homeopathic arnica will help reduce pain, edema (swelling), and erythema (redness) associated with acute sprains and strains.

Compresses soaked in a mixture of either sweet marjoram oil or rosemary oil and water will also have a soothing effect.

Magnesium combined with malic acid is used by nutritionally oriented physicians for a variety of muscle related complaints. The mineral itself is involved with muscle and bone metabolism, while malic acid enhances the absorption of magnesium from the intestine.

Self-Care Remedies
The standard self-treatment for strains and sprains is a combination of rest, ice, compression, and elevation–easily remembered by the acronym RICE. Rest the injured area, putting it in a sling or splint to immobilize it if necessary. Ice the affected area (but no more than 20 minutes at a time) every two or three hours for one to two days following the injury; this will limit the amount of swelling around the immediate area of the sprain. Compress the area, wrapping it in an elastic support bandage. Elevate the injured part above heart level.

Once the swelling has subsided, use a hot compress or heating pad and a hot bath or shower to increase blood circulation. If any swelling should develop, discontinue the heat and return to the cold.

When the pain and swelling are gone, begin gentle stretching exercises to restore flexibility.

Gradually, add strengthening exercises with light weights to fortify the muscles and connective tissues around the injured area.

To help prevent future injuries, adopt a regular, moderate exercise program. Stretch your muscles before and after each workout, warming up first for 5 to 10 minutes to increase blood flow to the large muscle groups. When you’ve worked up a light sweat, you’re ready to start exercising.

Before exercising, tape or wrap the injured joint to stabilize it.

When to Call a Doctor

  • If swelling is severe or worsens
  • If there is marked loss of sensation or tingling away from the immediate site of injury. This may indicate nerve injury associated with the sprain.
  • If severe bruising or discoloration appears
  • If pain persists or increases more than two or three days after the injury, despite self-treatment
  • If pain spreads to other parts of the injured area
  • If the injured area can’t sustain weight or tolerate movement
  • If the injured joint is misshapen–an indication of a possible fracture

Supplement Recommendations

From David Edelberg, M.D.at WholeHealth Chicago: Use oral supplements to help repair damaged areas, build up injured tissue, and reduce swelling. The topical remedies help relieve discomfort and also reduce swelling. You only need to take them until your strain or sprain feels better, usually about a week or two.
And don’t forget: You always need to begin with a daily high-potency multivitamin, along with a high-potency antioxidant combination.

How to Take the Supplements
The oral supplements recommended here can help you heal faster. These can all be taken together and, since they’re quite safe, can be used with all conventional medications.

Start everything at the same time. However, you’ll only use the high dose of vitamin A for about five days–it helps your body use protein and repair tissue. Continue the remaining supplements until all traces of pain and swelling have disappeared.

Vitamin C and flavonoids are healing antioxidants that also stop further injury to muscles and connective tissue. Glucosamine helps construct cartilage, our built-in shock absorber; it also strengthens and protects joints and ligaments. Magnesiumwill help with muscle pain and spasm. An enzyme produced by the pineapple plant, bromelain can relieve pain by preventing swelling and reducing inflammation.

Topical ointments or compresses applied to the painful and swollen areas can also relieve pain, reduce swelling, and speed healing. Arnica ointment, made from a plant extract, is soothing. You can also try compresses soaked in a combination of water and sweet marjoram oil or rosemary oil for relief.

We at WholeHealth Chicago strongly recommend that everyone take a high-potency multivitamin/mineral and well-balanced antioxidant complex every day. It may be necessary to adjust the dosages outlined below to account for your own daily vitamin regimen. All of our supplement recommendations also assume you are eating a healthful diet.

Be aware that certain cautions are associated with taking individual supplements, especially if you have other medical conditions and/or you’re taking medications. Key cautions are given in the listing below, but you need to see the WholeHealth Chicago Reference Library for a comprehensive discussion of each supplement’s cautions and drug/nutrient interactions.

For product recommendations and orders click here for the Natural Apothecary or call 773-296-6700 ext. 2001.

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