For immediate self-care of a muscle strain, try the R.I.C.E. approach — rest, ice, compression, elevation:
- Rest. Avoid activities that cause pain, swelling or discomfort. But don’t avoid all physical activity.
- Ice. Even if you’re seeking medical help, ice the area immediately. Use an ice pack or slush bath of ice and water for 15 to 20 minutes each time and repeat every two to three hours while you’re awake for the first few days after the injury.
- Compression. To help stop swelling, compress the area with an elastic bandage until the swelling stops. Don’t wrap it too tightly or you may hinder circulation. Begin wrapping at the end farthest from your heart. Loosen the wrap if the pain increases, the area becomes numb or swelling is occurring below the wrapped area.
- Elevation. Elevate the injured area above the level of your heart, especially at night, which allows gravity to help reduce swelling.
Some doctors recommend avoiding over-the-counter pain medications that can increase your risk of bleeding — such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) — during the first 48 hours after a muscle strain. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) can be helpful for pain relief during this time period.
A physical therapist can help you to maximize stability and strength of the injured joint or limb. Your doctor may suggest that you immobilize the area with a brace or splint. For some injuries, such as a torn tendon, surgery may be considered.