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Bruises, strains and sprains

  • Tip

    Bruises, sprains and strains are known as soft tissue injuries.

    An accident - even a simple twist or light fall - can cause a bruise, strain or sprain.

    • A bruise is the result of a broken blood vessel and tissue damage.
    • A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon. (A tendon is a tough, fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscle to bone.)
    • A sprain is an injury to a ligament, such as a stretch or tear. (A ligament is a band of tough, fibrous tissue that connects two or more bones to a joint and keeps that joint from moving too much.) The most common site for a sprain is the ankle.

    How to treat a bruise, strain or sprain

    • To treat a minor soft tissue injury, remember RICE:
      • Rest: Reduce or stop using the injured area for 48 hours. If your child has a leg injury, he may need to stay off the leg completely.
      • Ice: Put an ice pack on the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times a day. Use a cold pack, ice bag, or a plastic bag filled with crushed ice. Wrap the bag in a towel.
      • Compression: Placing pressure on the injured area may help reduce swelling: bandages (such as elastic wraps), special boots, air casts and splints. Ask your health care provider which is best for your child.
      • Elevation: Keep the injured area elevated (raised) above the level of your child's heart. Use a pillow to help raise a leg or arm.
    • Give your child over-the-counter pain medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin®) for discomfort. Follow the package directions for your child's age and weight. If your child is very young, do not give medicine unless advised by your health care provider.

    Tip

    There is evidence that ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin®) is helpful to reduce swelling.

    When to call your health care provider

    Call your health care provider if:

    • you see a broken bone
    • the joint (an ankle, knee, hip, wrist or elbow) is discolored
    • the injured area won't move
    • swelling won't go down
    • pain won't lessen with treatment
    • your child cannot move the affected area without pain
    • the injured area has been injured before
  • Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5 Years Old, fifth edition. To avoid awkward sentences, instead of referring to your child as "he/she" or "him/her," this guide will alternate between "he" or she" and "him" or "her."
    Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts, including the Pediatric Department of Allina Health Coon Rapids Clinic
    First published: 02/01/2010
    Last reviewed: 01/01/2016