4 exercises to treat sprains and strains

Exercises are key to treating strains and sprains and preventing future injuries. Once you've gotten the swelling down and the pain isn't as acute, several weeks of rehabilitation may be needed — possibly longer if your injury is severe. These exercises are for ankle sprains, hamstring strains and a couple of forms of tendinitis.

4 exercises to treat sprains and strains

For hamstring strains

Start with the standing stretch.

  • Place the heel of your injured leg on a fat book, bend over at the waist and lean forward until you feel the stretch in your hamstring.
  • Don't force it. Stretch gradually.

After warming up your muscle, you can advance to a prone knee bend.

  • Lie on your stomach with your legs straight out behind you.
  • Pull the heel of your injured leg up towards your buttocks (using your hand to help, if necessary); hold briefly, then slowly release the leg back down to the floor.
  • Work up to three sets of 10 knee bends each.

For ankle sprains

For a sprained ankle, rehab can begin when swelling starts to subside and you can tolerate pressure on the ball of your foot. Before beginning any exercise, warm the ankle by soaking it in warm water. Start with the towel stretch:

  • Sitting with your injured leg out in front of you, draw a towel around the ball of your foot.
  • Keeping your knee straight, pull the towel towards your body until you feel a gentle stretch in your calf.
  • Hold 30 seconds, relax, then repeat three times.

Once the swelling has gone down, try the alphabet range of motion exercise:

  • Sit on the floor with your legs extended.
  • Using the big toe of your injured leg as a pointer, trace the capital letters of the alphabet from A to Z.
  • Repeat once every hour while you're awake.
  • You can also do this exercise while lying in bed with your foot propped up on a pillow.

For Achilles tendinitis

Ham­­string strains and Achilles tendinitis often go hand in hand. To stretch your Achilles tendon (the ropelike tendon that connects the calf muscles to the heel), start with the same towel stretch described for ankle sprains. When this exercise becomes too easy, try the plantar fascia stretch:

  • Place the balls of your feet on the front edge of the first stair of a low staircase or on a fat book, toeing in slightly.
  • Reach for the floor with the heel of your injured leg.
  • Once you feel a stretch in your arch, stop and hold the position for 30 seconds.
  • Relax and repeat three times.

For tennis elbow

This injury, which can just as easily result from housework as tennis, causes pain on the outside or inside of the forearm. To treat it, try the wrist flexor stretch:

  • Extend your injured arm, with your elbow straight and your wrist flexed at a 90-degree angle, so that your palm faces forward and your fingers are pointing down to the floor.
  • With the other hand, grasp the palm and fingers of the extended hand and pull towards your body until you feel a stretch in your forearm.
  • Do this 10 times, holding three to five seconds each.

Don't resume your pre-injury activities until your doctor or a physical therapist (PT) gives you the green light. Starting up too soon can lead to reinjury or to chronic problems.

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