Today is a glorious day. We’ve been sitting out under our oak tree, both sons and I, in the afternoons -- until my older son sees his...
Sprains, Strains & Broken Bones: #4, and Last in our First Aid Series
I’m a bit superstitious. I wish I weren’t. It has improved over time, but when it comes to my kids I haven’t shaken it completely. I’ve noticed superstition rear its head as i’ve written the first aid series. I noticed, for example, that after the blog on healing salve for cuts and abrasions, my older son, Aidan, seemed to have one wipe-out after another that required the use of my newest potion. Same with the Tummy Trouble Tea and our incidence of the stomach flu. Same with the chocolate mousse...suddenly we all craved chocolate -- no, wait a sec, that’s every day. In any case, there is a school of metaphysical thought that tells us where we place our attention determines what we draw into our experience, and I adhere to this school of thought, especially when it comes to health by focusing on the positive, and on balance, whether with my clients or my own family. I’d rather not focus too much on what accidents could happen, and more on restoring health from where we’re at in the given moment.
Then Aidan has a minor biking accident -- one minute, a bike and scooter race down a quiet residential street, the next minute a pile of kid, bike and scooter with mama pulling the kids up out of the ‘wreckage’, and I realize that maybe sometimes I can run, but I can’t hide.Nothing’s broken, but his ankle is swollen and black-and-blue, and I decide it wouldn’t hurt to remind myself and others what to do if something were to, heaven forbid, break. After all, my across-the-street neighbor growing up broke his arm in a freak bunk bed accident. (You know how mamas always say ‘don’t fight with your sister’ and ‘don’t jump up and down on the upper bunk’? Well he did. Both. At the same time.) Sh--I mean, stuff -- happens. It doesn’t mean we’re bad parents. And whatever I choose to blog about, a good health blog, at its best, will affect how we handle situations that arise, whether it be with calm, finesse and knowledge, or mom-style panic. So I’m finishing off this recent series of First Aid Remedies with a segment on sprains, strains, and broken bones. And I’m using these remedies simultaneously on Aidan’s ankle. ‘Cause his ankle’s still a little swollen, and he really wants to make it to his martial arts belt test today. Fingers crossed.
Here’s the lowdown on Sprains, Strains, and Broken Bones
How to tell the difference:
The truth is, you can’t always tell the difference, but you may be able to take an educated guess based on the severity of symptoms and taking a couple of different factors into account. A sprain is the stretching and/or tear of a ligament or tendon (ligaments attach bone to bone, tendons attach muscles to bone), usually from being twisted abruptly. A strain is when any part of the muscular system gets stretched. A broken bone is exactly what the name implies, although even here there are widely varying degrees of severity.
To assess the situation -- as you’re running towards a pile of kids and bikes in the street for example -- you’ll first want to observe carefully. Is there blood? Bone protruding from skin anywhere? Where did your child take the brunt of the fall?
A sprain or strain of moderate severity can be painful and difficult to bear weight on immediately. A mild strain may not be as painful initially as it becomes over the course of the day. And a broken bone is generally quite painful from the get-go and non-load-bearing from the get-go. It may even be accompanied by a ‘snap’ or cracking sound.
What to do first:
If there’s any chance your little one has broken a long bone, skull, neck or vertebra, keep them still and don’t move them -- call 911 and get help to avoid aggravating the break. If this isn’t the case and the situation suggests you move them - as with the in-the-street bike wipeouts for example, you may decide to splint it yourself, with a board or cardboard and a blanket or pillow. Make sure you are immobilizing the area entirely -- on either side of the joint if knee, ankle, wrist or elbow are involved. Most often breaks will not happen at the joint, but more likely at the more tender area where bone is growing. Sprains and strains are less common, especially in kids under age six, since the most susceptible area is growing bone and not the more fibrous, supporting ligament. Still, in active kids, or kids involved in intense physical activity and sports, (or again, biking accidents?) it happens. If there’s bleeding, apply pressure to the area, but in cases of protruding bone, do not try to manipulate it in any way or push on it. Worst case scenario.
What to do if it’s a Minor Sprain or Strain:
If you suspect it’s a broken bone, or just aren’t sure, the ER is your friend. If it seems to be a more minor strain or sprain (the pain is not excrutiating, nothing looks ‘bent’ or mis-shapen) and you decide to apply a wait-and-see policy, your next move is RICE: Rest it, Ice it, Compress it, Elevate it.
- Rest it. Get your child comfortable, propped in bed, or on a sofa. Their position will depend on the site of the strain or sprain.
- Apply Ice. Either take an ice pack or bag of ice wrapped in a thin towel, and place it at the site of the sprain/strain, to bring down swelling. Leave the ice on for 10-15 minutes then remove for at least 20 minutes. Apply ice at least every few hours over the course of the first day, and in cases of continued swelling, the second day as well.
- Compress it. Using an ace or other compression bandage can keep swelling down.
- Elevate it. Elevating the affected limb or digit above heart level can reduce sensation of pain and swelling.
What to do if it’s a broken bone:
If you’re on your way to the ER or doctor’s office yourself, you can administer the homeopathic aconite to calm some of the shock and fright associated with the situation. Five minutes after the aconite if you use it, you can administer arnica homeopathically to begin the healing and reduce inflammation of the area (we talk about topical arnica in the blog on bumps and bruises). Continue to dose with arnica three times after the incident, in relatively quick succession, in anywhere from 30 minute to 2 hour intervals. Safe and effective homeopathic doses of the aconite and arnica would be 9c, 30c, 30x, or 200x. (These numbers represent the number of dilutions, but -- slightly counter-intuitively -- the greater the number of dilutions, the stronger the dose.) Remember, we are talking homeopathics and not the arnica herb here, which is too strong for children.
Most importantly, stay with your child and keep your connection to them throughout -- whether through words, song or touch. A loving parent’s reassurance is the best healing gift you can give whether it’s with a doctor, in the ER, or in your home setting.
After the Initial Trauma
For Sprains and Strains:
Expect a mild strain or sprain to heal in 2-4 weeks, maybe even sooner. In the meantime, here are some remedies to keep swelling down, soothe and alleviate pain:
- Arnica: in ointment, oil or gel gel form, rub arnica topically at the sight of the swelling or inflammation to reduce swelling and alleviate pain
- Proteolytic digestive enzymes (proteases): taken internally on an empty stomach (at least 1 1/2 hours since your last meal, and 45 minutes before the next for optimal utilization) proteolytic enzymes help to reduce inflammation and speed recovery. Eating pineapple on an empty stomach, or taking bromelain supplements have pain-relieving, inflammation-reducing effects as well. In some studies, these enzymes outperform ibuprofen and other NSAIDs, without the side effects. (They do thin blood, so should not be taken before any surgeries.)
- Epsom Salt Bath: Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate, a compound that both relaxes muscles and helps reduce inflammation. The magnesium also calms and soothes the nervous system.
For Broken Bones:
- Calcium and Magnesium Supplement: The combination of calcium and magnesium helps the bone to rebuild its tissue. In optimal balance, calcium is given in 2:1 proportion to magnesium. Generally a child-size dose will be 250mg of calcium to 125mg of magnesium. Consider also supplementing your child with vitamin C, to improve calcium uptake.
- Silica: Silica is a trace mineral, found predominantly in the connective tissues of the body such as bone, cartilage, and tendons, and used for the formation of bone tissue and helpful in the absorption of calcium. Very little silica is needed by the body under normal circumstances, but child-safe silica supplementation may support your child’s body when healing bone. Not all silica is safe and absorbable for children -- either use a child-formulated preparation, such as biosil, or administer it by giving your child as nettle or oatstraw tea. Raw oats are an excellent source of silica -- for a raw oat recipe your child will adore, check out vegan chef, Christy Morgan’s chewy trail mix bars, found in her new cookbook, The Blissful Chef. (Horsetail is also an herb high in silica, but is not good for children under the age of 12.)
- Again, proteolytic digestive enzymes (proteases): taken internally on an empty stomach (at least 1 1/2 hours since your last meal, and 45 minutes before the next for optimal utilization) proteolytic enzymes help to reduce inflammation and speed recovery. Eating pineapple on an empty stomach, or taking bromelain supplements (a protease from pineapple) have pain-relieving, inflammation-reducing effects as well. In some studies, these enzymes outperform ibuprofen and other NSAIDs, without the side effects. (They do thin blood, so should not be taken before any surgeries.)
- Chlorophyll: Chlorophyll is an excellent supplement for healing bones, as it is high in trace minerals needed for rebuilding bone tissue
- Avoid colas, red meat, and sugar: Sometimes what you don’t eat is just as important as what you do eat. The high concentration of phosphoric acid in these foods (not to be confused with phosphorus) depletes the bones of calcium.
- Nervine Tea: When your child is healing a broken bone, chamomile and catnip are both calming to the nerves -- plus, chamomile is high in calcium. Consider combining chamomile, catnip and peppermint, with oatstraw and nettle for a healing brew. Steep for 10 minutes before serving. (If any digestive upset occurs, omit the nettle.)
What to watch for as Healing Progresses
The process of healing bones and muscles may not be pain-free -- pain serves both as an indicator of healing progress, and as an inducement to give the injured area the rest that it needs to heal. As such, it may not even be a good idea to quell all pain entirely (although if it’s up to me in the moment, I certainly wish I could). Your job as the mama or papa is to encourage the needed rest and to take-the-edge-off the discomfort as best you can. You also want to keep an eye on progress yourself. It’s time to go back to the doctor or ER if you notice some of the following:
- the pain gets progressively worse, or remains severe
- the swelling and bruising increase
- there is warmth and redness, or streaks of red at the site of the injury -- this could indicate infection
- There is no improvement after 5-7 days
- Your child experiences numbness, or ‘pins and needles’ in the area
And finally, I’m ending rather than beginning with the Ounce of Prevention, so we all leave this blog with our focus on the positive of preventing injury
No bunk beds. No bikes. No skating. No fun. I’m obviously kidding (mostly:)), but lets keep an eye on our little ones and make sure they wear the suggested protective gear when engaging in activities like bikes and skateboards (Aidan’s helmet looked a little banged up and I hate, hate, hate to think that it could have been his little head). What happens to the gear is what would have happened to you without the gear. My friend who works at a bike shop always says this, and it keeps my son motivated to put on the helmet and wristguards without nagging. I try to avoid fear tactics. Too much fear might incite the situation I’m aiming to avoid. But if a little reminding and a couple ground rules will prevent an accident and keep me feeling comfortable with the risks my kids are taking, then I’m not superstitious, I’m embracing common sense -- or at least that’s the risk I am willing to take.
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