When you are in the wilderness, far away from clinics or hospitals, and injury can quickly become deadly. While broken bones are certainly one of the worst-case scenarios, sprains are also something that can seriously hinder you from getting food, water, shelter, or back to civilization.
A sprain happens when the ligaments surrounding a joint become twisted or pulled. A serious sprain can be as painful as a broken bone. The joint becomes twisted and very painful. A sprained ankle is usually the result of walking over uneven terrain and is a very common injury to get while hiking or backpacking, especially if you have a heavy load on your back.
Sprained elbows and wrists can happen too, but fortunately, you will most likely be fine if you can sprain them and just keep moving, while of course some of your activities could be greatly hindered, at least you’ll still be able to move. A sprained ankle, however, will require rest, which will mean you will have to stay put where you are.
Since nothing is broken and there are no abrasions or cuts when a sprain occurs, for the most part, resting and keeping weight off the sprained joint is the best you can do. If you’ve ever had a sprained ankle you’re probably familiar with the acronym RICE=rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
You will need to keep the sprain from moving as much as possible. Again if it is your ankle, you will want to stay off of it until the swelling as significantly receded. If it is your elbow or wrist, you’ll want to sling it so it can stay in one place. Many first aid kits have elastic bandages which can be used for the “C”, compression. This will also help keep the joint immobile so it can continue to be rested.
Of course, you probably won’t have ice in the wilderness, but soaking your sprain in a cold stream, river, or lake, can help tremendously. Once it begins to heal a little and you can put some weight on it again, walk around very gently in a body of water if you can. This can serve as a bit of wilderness physical therapy for your sprain, to help the healing process.
And finally, elevate your sprain if you can. If this is your ankle, try to lay back with your ankle resting on something comfortable, above your heart. This will reduce swelling and quicken the healing process. Again, a sling will serve this purpose for a sprained wrist or elbow.
A sprain can be a serious injury, but it doesn’t have to get worse. Use these guidelines for treating a sprain in the wilderness so you can get back on track to survival as quickly as possible.
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