Muscle sprains and cramps

Muscle sprains and cramps

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​Muscle sprains and cramps often occur under similar circumstances. The symptoms are typically triggered by long-term exertion or excessive stress and strain. Muscle sprains and cramps can be treated at home.

Muscle sprains​

A muscle sprain is a tissue damage in a muscle ripping muscle fibres. The area of injury is painful and it may be swollen and bruised due to bleeding in the tissue.  The most typical area to sustain muscle sprains are the calf, thigh, biceps or abdominal muscles, but they can affect almost any muscle of your body. A sprain or tear can also be the result of a direct impact. ​

Muscle cramp

Cramps can occur in a tired muscle either during exertion or afterwards. Cramps typically occur at night. Cramps are more likely if you sweat heavily or work in a hot environment. The tendency to suffer from cramps increases with age and some illnesses also predispose to cramps. However, the underlying cause can not always be found. In a cramp, the muscle suddenly contracts causing sharp pain in the contracted muscle.  The muscle will soon relax but may remain sore for some time. Cramps are common in the legs but can occur anywhere.​

Self-care

​Elevation, ice pack and a gently compressing bandage on the muscle will also help. Apply ice for 15–20 minutes at a time every 1–2 hours as necessary. Minor muscle injuries heal well, and you can start rehabilitating the affected area by light exercise in a couple of days as pain allows. You can take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine (e.g. ibuprofen) available at pharmacies, to relieve the pain caused by a sprain. Pharmacy staff will help you select the right product, if necessary.

Cramps can be avoided by keeping hydrated and maintaining a normal salt balance. Also warming up and stretching properly before exercise may help prevent sprains. However, clinical studies have not proved magnesium supplements to be an effective treatment for muscle cramps. The best way to manage a muscle cramp is to stop the exercise that triggered the cramp, massage and stretch the muscle gently. But if the cramp does not ease, the muscle may be torn.

When should you seek medical advice?

​You should seek medical advice, if

  • the muscle feels weak following the sprain.
  • the pain is severe.
  • you can feel an obvious dent in the muscle.
  • the injury has not healed within 2 to 6 weeks.

More information

The producers of the instruction

​​​​​Emergency care professionals have produced the instruction in collaboration with Terveyskirjasto.​

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Updated  22.4.2021