First Aid: How To Treat A Sprain or Suspected Break

Nobody is invulnerable to injury.

As a parent it’s pretty likely that your children, or someone that you know, will get in an accident where you suspect they may have sprained or broken something.

That’s why it makes so much sense to know how to treat these kinds of injuries, so you’re prepared for the day when they happen.

Symptoms To Look Out For

Now it is often difficult for a first aider to tell the difference between a strain, a sprain and a break. Strains present with a sharp sudden pain in the area, loss of power and muscle tenderness. Sprains show intense pain, restricted mobility, and fast bruising. Breaks are more complex, and tend to present with the following symptoms:

  • pain at the sign or injury, or near it
  • difficulty, or inability, to move normally
  • loss of power
  • unusual look and way or moving
  • tenderness
  • swelling
  • bruising or other discolouration

If You Aren’t Sure

When it comes to suspected breaks, it always pays to err on the side of caution. That’s why if you aren’t 100% sure that the injury is a sprain or a strain, you should always treat it as though it is a fracture or a break. We’ll provide both the courses of treatment here anyway, but don’t hesitate to over treat if you aren’t certain.

If You Know It’s A Strain/Sprain

When you’re absolutely sure that it’s a strain or a sprain, and there are no other injuries to the person, particularly head or spine injuries, the course of treatment is known as the RICE management plan.

1. Rest

Rest the patient and the injured part of their body in a comfortable place where they aren’t putting any weight on the injury. Ensure they don’t get up and move about.

2. Icepack 

Apply an icepack, or cold compress, wrapped in a wet cloth to the area of injury for 15 minutes at 2 hour intervals during the first 24 hours. In the 24 hours following that, the icepack should be applied every 4 hours for 15 minutes at a time.

3. Compression

The injury should be wrapped securely in an elastic compression bandage. Make sure that you wrap well past the point of injury, to ensure maximum stability.

4. Elevate

Keep the injured area elevated during the icing process and any time the person is not mobile.

If there is no improvement after a few days, or you’re concerned about the injury, seek the opinion of a medical professional.

If You Think It’s A Break/Fracture

If you’re sure that it’s a break or fracture, or you aren’t sure that it’s not ‘just’ a sprain/strain, you’ll need to make sure you treat your patient in the following way.


Follow the DRSABCD plan. This means check for Danger, get a Response, make sure you Send for help, and assess the patient’s Airways and Breathing before undertaking CPR and Defibrillation if needed.

2. Assess The Injury

The next step is to control any bleeding that might be coming from the area of injury and cover any wound sites with sterile pads and gauze. You’ll need to assess the fracture at this point. It might be an open fracture, and therefore obvious, or it might be hard to see. Talk to the patient about their pain, and ask them to remain as still as possible.

via huffington via

3. Immobilise The Injury

To stop the patient from moving and causing themselves more damage, you’ll need to immobilise the fracture site. Take some broad bandages, if you have them, and wrap the area (on limbs) including the joints to ensure that it isn’t possible for the patient to move. Try and use the natural hollows of the body while wrapping the bandage, and make sure you’re always supporting the limb while you wrap. Then take a padded splint and fully immobilise the limb, using extra padding to make sure the injury is secure.

4. Check And Wait

Once the entire limb and fracture area has been bandaged for support, there’s nothing to be done but to wait for an ambulance. While you’re waiting, make sure that you check the bandages regularly, around every 15 minutes, to make sure they aren’t too tight or loose. Signs of a tight bandage include loss of circulation at the hands or feet (close to the fracture). Keep your patient calm, and wait for help to arrive in the ambulance.

First Aid: How To Treat A Sprain or Suspected Break | Stay at Home Mum

For More Information

All First Aid information in this article was sourced from the St. John Ambulance Australia website. You can read more about First Aid treatments and courses here. Remember that in an emergency always dial Triple Zero (000) for assistance.

SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at time of publication.