hiker, boots, twisted ankle
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A misstep is about to produce ankle injury to a hiker

Knowing what medical issues you may contend with in various scenarios is the first step to being an effective “survival medic.” Armed with medical knowledge, the medic can accumulate the supplies and skills that will save lives in the uncertain future. In this series, let’s examine some important medical issues for which the off-grid caregiver must prepare. This time, we’ll discuss sprains, strains, and fractures.

Sprains, Strains, and Fractures

Everyone knows that a fracture is a broken bone, but not all know what a sprain or a strain is. A sprain is a stretching or tearing of fibrous bands of tissue called ligaments that connect two bones together. A strain is a stretching or tearing of muscle tissue or tendons, fibrous cords that connect the muscles to bones. Sprains occur in joints such as the ankle or wrist, while strains often affect large muscles, such as those in your back.

Treatment for Sprains

To treat sprains, remember the acronym RICE:

Rest: Continued activity in an injured joint may lead to worsening of the condition and slow healing.

Ice: Application of ice packs for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours will decrease swelling and pain. This is effective for about the first 24 to 48 hours.

Compression: Wrapping the joint with an elastic bandage will help immobilize it as well as decrease swelling. It’s important to check color and pulse beyond the level of the sprain to make sure that the wrap is not too tight and cutting off circulation.

Elevation: Elevating the extremity 12 inches above the level of the heart will help decrease swelling and inflammation.

In severe sprains and most fractures, the application of a splint such as the SAM will help immobilize the injured joint further and prevent re-injury. Strains are best treated with rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, plus light stretching to decrease stiffness. After the first 48 hours, replace the cold packs with moist heat compresses.

In most cases, fractures are treated with protective casting (a cast), which can be formed using either plaster or fiberglass kits.

Fracture vs. Sprain

In modern times, technology makes it relatively easy to tell a fracture from a sprain. X-rays, CAT scans, MRIs, and other tests help the orthopedist determine the nature of the injury and the appropriate treatment. Off the grid, the family medic doesn’t have these options but still can get a good idea of the type of injury. Consider:

Visual Clues: Many fractures, especially ankle and wrist breaks, give the joint an “off” look. As well, the swelling and bruising you’ll see is often (not always) of a greater degree than those seen with sprains. One clue I shouldn’t have to mention is this: If you see motion of a bone where there isn’t a joint, it’s a fracture. That means that, if you suddenly notice 6 knuckles on your index finger, you probably broke it.

Sensation Clues: The severity of pain experienced with a fracture is usually more than with a sprain. You might still be able to put some weight on an ankle sprain, for example, but not with an ankle fracture. Also, the pain usually subsides over a few days with a standard sprain but may continue much longer with an untreated fracture.

This article is from Survivor’s Edge Survival Experts Handbook 2018 Special Edition Magazine. Grab your copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com.

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