First Aid Care for Joint and Muscle Injuries

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A sprain is a very common injury affecting a joint in which the ligaments and other underlying tissues are damaged by a forceful stretching or twisting of the affected joint more than its maximum anatomical range. Attempts to move or use the affected joint significantly increase the pain. The very most common locations for sprains include wrists, ankles and knees.

A joint dislocation is a more serious but less common injury. It occurs when a joint is pulled out of its socket and stays apart; with the bone ends are no longer in contact with each other possibly due to a violent stretching of a body part. The most common sites for joint dislocations include the shoulders, elbows, fingers, hips, knees and ankles. Most joint injuries result from various contact sports and motor vehicle accidents.

Recognizing Joint Fractures

The most common signs of a sprain or dislocation are very similar to that of a broken or fractured bone such as swelling, pain and inability to move the injured point normally which increases when touched or moved.  The main sign of a joint dislocation is a deformity which will appear distorted when compared to a normal body apart.

Care for Joint Injuries

Below are basic first aid care for a joint injury:

  1. If you suspect a possible joint dislocation, stabilize the injured area with a splint if emergency medical services will be delayed. Provide the basic care as you would do to a fractured injury. Never attempt to put the dislocated part back to its normal position as it might further damage underlying tissues, rupture blood vessels and add more pain to the victim.
  2. If you suspect a sprain, follow the RICE procedure.
  3. Call for emergency medical services for serious injuries in which transporting the victim would cause more pain or aggravate the injury.

R.I.C.E. Procedure        

R.I.C.E. is the acronym for rest, ice compression and elevation of the injured part. This mnemonic is the most common approach in caring for minor sprains and muscle injuries such as a strain or contusion. Allow the victim to rest and immobilize the injured part, apply ice packs and compress the injured site with an elastic bandage and elevate the body part to reduce swelling.

Muscle Injuries

A muscle strain or a muscle pull occurs when a muscle is over stretched and becomes torn. Most strains occur at the back muscles as a result of people lifting heavy objects without proper body mechanics.

A muscle contusion or bruise, results from a heavy blow to the muscle which ruptures tiny blood vessel supplying the muscles with blood which results in a purplish discoloration of the injured site. A muscle cramp occurs when a muscle goes into an uncontrolled and painful spasm.

Recognizing Muscle Injuries   

Signs of muscle strains include:

  • Sharp pain.
  • Stiffness and pain when the victim tries to move the affected part.
  • Weakness and loss of function of the injured part.

Signs of muscle contusion include:

  • Swelling of the injured area.
  • Pain and tenderness.
  • Bruising of the skin (appearing hours after the injury)

Signs of muscle cramping include:

  • Painful uncontrolled spasms.
  • Inability to move the injured body part.

Care for Muscle Injuries

Care for muscle strains and contusions can be readily managed by the RICE procedure (rest, ice pack, compression and elevation). Muscle cramps can be managed by assisting the victim stretch the affected muscle or apply pressure directly to it to control the muscle contractions.


Alton, T. et al (2012). First Aid, CPR and AED Standard 6th Ed. Jones & Bartlett Learning

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