What To Do After A Muscle Strain Or Ligament Sprain?

What to do after a Muscle Strain or Ligament Sprain?

Article by John Miller

Muscle Strain or Ligament Sprain?

If you suffer a soft tissue injury, the best advice we can give you is to

Seek Prompt Medical Advice!

The research is very conclusive.  Early accurate assessment and prompt appropriate treatment is much better than delay. Plus, what may appear to be a single muscle, ligament, or soft tissue injury can include a hairline fracture, bone bruising or dislocation.

Prompt Treatment Will Benefit You In Many Ways:

  • Less pain quicker
  • Reduced drug intake
  • Quicker return to function: e.g. walking, work, sport
  • Less income loss from time off work
  • Less likelihood of future recurrence.

Early Management of a Soft Tissue Injury

During the time delay before you can seek a professional opinion, then follow the tips below:


Rest from painful exercise or movement is essential in the early injury stage. We call this active rest. “No pain. No gain.” does not apply in most cases.  The rule of thumb is – don’t do anything that reproduces your pain for the initial two or three days.  After that, you need to get it moving, or other problems will develop. If you are unsure what to do, please contact your physiotherapist for injury-specific advice.

Ice or Heat?


Ice for the initial two or three days post-injury. Apply ice for 20 minutes each two to three hours for the first few days until the “heat” comes out of the injury. Ice should also help reduce your pain and swelling associated with soft tissue injuries, such as ligament sprains, muscle tears or bruising.


It is preferable to avoid heat (and heat rubs) in the first 48 hours of injury. The heat encourages bleeding, which could be detrimental if used too early. Once the “heat” has come out of your injury, heat packs may stimulate blood flow. We recommend 20-minute applications a few times a day to increase the blood flow and hasten your healing rate. The heat will also help your muscles relax and ease your pain. Heat Wheat Packs are an excellent home solution for a multitude of conditions.

Should You Use a Compressive Bandage / Support?

Yes. If it is possible to apply a compressive bandage or elastic support to the injury, it will help control swelling and bleeding in the first few days.  In most cases, the bandage/support will also help support the injury as the new scar forms. This support should help to reduce your pain.


Elevation of an injury in the first few days is beneficial. Think where your damage is and where your heart is. Gravity will encourage swelling to settle at the lowest point.  Try to rest your injury above your heart. Some injuries are impossible, or it would be detrimental to elevate, so please use your common sense and be guided by your pain.

For specific advice, please consult your physiotherapist.

When Should You Commence Treatment?

In most cases, “the early bird gets the worm”.  Researchers have found that the intervention of physiotherapy treatment for acute soft tissue injuries within a few days has many benefits.

Prompt Treatment Benefits include:

  • Relieving your pain quicker via joint mobility techniques, soft tissue massage, electrotherapy etc
  • Improving your scar tissue quality using techniques to guide the direction it forms
  • Getting you back to sport or work quicker through faster healing rates
  • Loosening or strengthening of your injured region with individually prescribed exercises and techniques
  • Improving your performance when you do return to sport, work or merely daily life
  • Correct any biomechanical faults that may be affecting your movement, technique or predisposing you to injury.

What If You Do Nothing?

Research tells us that injuries left untreated do take longer to heal and have lingering pain.

They are also more likely to recur and leave you with:

  • abnormal scar tissue formation
  • joint stiffness
  • muscle weakness

It’s important to remember that symptoms lasting longer than three months become habitual and are much harder to solve.  The sooner you get on top of your symptoms, the better your outcome.

Please seek professional healthcare from your trusted physiotherapist for your specific rehabilitation advice.