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When Winter Sprains or Strains Strike, Think BestMed Urgent Care

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Reviewed by: Frank Garber, NP

People often think of sprains and strains as warm weather, sports-related issues. But slippery winter weather and darker days can make everyday activities more treacherous. Whether you’re hitting the slopes or carrying groceries up slick stairs, accidents that can lead to strains and sprains can happen at any time and to anyone. That’s why it’s important to know what causes these types of injuries, who is most susceptible, how to treat them at home and when it’s time to visit your local walk-in urgent care clinic.

Sprains and Strains: What’s the Difference?

While strains and sprains are similar in nature, there is a difference between the two types of injuries. A sprain involves the tearing or stretching of ligaments — the short bands of flexible, fibrous tissue that connect bone to bone, bone to cartilage or hold a joint together. A strain involves a tear or stretch in a muscle or a tendon — the flexible cord of tissue that connects a muscle to a bone.

Sprains are some of the most common injuries our urgent medical care centers see this time of year. An example might be a skiing accident, but other forceful impacts or twists can also be to blame — think trying to catch your balance on ice, slipping down wet stairs or falling while playing in the snow. Ankle sprains are the most common type of sprain, but knees, thumbs, wrists and more are also prone to this type of injury. Symptoms of a sprain include pain, swelling, bruising, instability and loss of mobility.

BestMed Urgent Care Clinics also sees an influx of strains this time of year. A strain is caused by the twisting or pulling of a tendon or muscle and can happen suddenly or develop gradually over time. Winter strain culprits include things like overextending your back while shoveling snow, lifting heavy packages without using proper body mechanics or getting in a fender-bender on icy roads. Common areas to suffer a strain are the back and hamstrings, and signs include pain, muscle spasms, weakness when using the affected muscle, cramps, swelling, bruising, instability and loss of motion.

When to Seek Treatment at Your Local Urgent Care Center

Most sprains and strains are minor and can be successfully treated at home. If you can still move or put weight on the injured area (even though it may be painful), follow the RICE protocol: rest, ice, compression and elevation.

  • Rest: Keep moving but take it easy and avoid activities that cause more discomfort.
  • Ice: Put ice on the injury as soon as possible. Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes every 2-3 hours. Even if you need the help of a medical professional later, this is important.
  • Compression: Compression using elastic bandages can help reduce swelling. Start at the point farthest from your heart and make sure you don’t wrap it too tight. If the pain gets worse or you start swelling below the wrap, loosen it.
  • Elevation: Elevating the injured area above the level of your heart helps reduce swelling.

However, if your pain and swelling get worse despite following RICE, it may indicate the need for medical help. Here are some additional signs it’s time to a visit BestMed Urgent Care Clinic:

  • You can’t move or bear weight.
  • You experience pain over the bones of an injured joint.
  • You feel numb or tingly in the injured area.
  • The pain becomes unbearable.
  • Your injured joint pops or cracks when you move it.

These symptoms shouldn’t be dismissed, as they can indicate a more serious sprain or strain, or even a bone fracture or break. Visiting an urgent care clinic can help ensure that the injury doesn’t worsen and cause longer-term damage.

What to Expect if Your Sprain or Strain Needs Urgent Care

All BestMed Urgent Care locations have on-site X-ray capabilities to rule out fractures and our medical providers are skilled at diagnosing and treating your sprain or strain to help you get back to your life as quickly as possible.

If you have a more serious injury, it may be necessary to support the area with taping, bandaging or bracing. The most severe sprains and strains may even require total immobilization or a referral to a physical therapist or surgeon to correct soft-tissue damage and regain strength and range of motion. Our providers can also advise you on the best stretches and strengthening exercises to minimize your risk of future sprains and strains. BestMed Urgent Care clinics including those in Helena, MT, Great Falls, MT, and Bozeman, MT are walk-in urgent care centers that also offer the opportunity to get in line online. Visit our website for more information and visit your local clinic for quick and effective treatment.