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SPRAINS AND STRAINS

Questions

WHAT ARE SPRAINS AND STRAINS?

A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments — the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect two bones together in your joints. The most common location for a sprain is in your ankle. Initial treatment includes rest, ice, compression and elevation. Mild sprains can be successfully treated at home. Severe sprains sometimes require surgery to repair torn ligaments

A muscle strain is an injury to a muscle or a tendon — the fibrous tissue that connects muscles to bones. Minor injuries may only overstretch a muscle or tendon, while more severe injuries may involve partial or complete tears in these tissues. Sometimes called pulled muscles, strains commonly occur in the lower back and in the muscles at the back of the thigh (hamstrings).

The difference between a sprain and a strain is that a sprain injures the bands of tissue that connect two bones together, while a strain involves an injury to a muscle or to the band of tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone. At first, treatment of both sprains and strains usually involves resting the injured area, icing it, wearing a bandage or device that compresses the area, and medicines. Later treatment might include exercise and physical therapy.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF SPRAINS AND STRAINS?

The usual signs and symptoms of sprain include pain, swelling, bruising, and loss of the ability to move and use the joint (called functional ability). However, these signs and symptoms can vary in intensity, depending on the severity of the sprain. Sometimes people feel a pop or tear when the injury happens.

On the other hand people with a strain experience pain, muscle spasm, and muscle weakness. They can also have localized swelling, cramping, or inflammation and, with a minor or moderate strain, usually some loss of muscle function. Patients typically have pain in the injured area and general weakness of the muscle when they attempt to move it.

The symptoms of a sprain and a strain are very similar. That’s because the injuries themselves are very similar. These two conditions are frequently confused.

Common symptoms of sprains 

• Bruising

• Pain around the affected joint

• swelling

• Limited flexibility

• Difficulty using the joint’s full range of motion

 Common symptoms of strains

• Muscle spasm

• Pain around the affected joint

• Swelling

• Limited flexibility

• Difficulty using the joint’s full range of motion

The main difference is that with a sprain you may have to bruise around the affected joint, whereas with a strain, you may have spasms in the affected muscle.

WHAT ARE THE COMMON CAUSES OF SPRAINS AND STRAINS?

Causes of sprains

The most common causes of sprains are falling, twisting, or experiencing trauma to the joint. These types of injuries may cause the joint to move out of its normal range of movement, tearing or stretching the ligament as this happens.

Situations that may result in a sprain include:

  • walking or running on an uneven surface
  • twisting or pivoting suddenly
  • falling and landing on the wrist or hand
  • playing racquet sports
  • injuries from contact sports

Causes of Strains

Strains may occur suddenly (acute) or develop slowly over time (chronic).

Causes of acute strains include:

  • lifting a heavy object
  • running, jumping, or throwing
  • slipping or falling

Causes of chronic strains include playing sports and activities that involve repetitive movements, such as rowing, tennis or running. Sitting or standing in an awkward position for prolonged periods can also cause chronic strains.

DIAGNOSIS

Doctors often diagnose a sprain or strain by excluding other causes for your symptoms. After a brief physical exam, your doctor may request an X-ray. An X-ray will rule out any breaks or fractures.

If the X-ray isn’t conclusive, your doctor might request another type of imaging test called an MRI. An MRI can give your doctor a very detailed view of the joint. An MRI might reveal very small or thin breaks that an X-ray can’t identify. If neither the MRI nor X-ray reveals any breaks or injuries to the bone, your doctor will likely diagnose a sprain or strain.

TREATMENT

Mild strains and mild sprains are treated with the same technique. This technique is known as RICE. RICE stands for:

  • Rest: Stay off the affected joint, or try not to use it while it heals. This will give the joint time to heal.
  • Ice: Ice helps reduce swelling and inflammation. Never apply ice directly to your skin. Instead, wrap a thin towel or piece of clothing around a bag of ice. Leave it on the affected area for 20 minutes, and then remove the ice for 20 minutes. Repeat as much as you can for the first 24 to 48 hours.
  • Compression: Compression will help reduce the swelling. Wrap the affected joint in a bandage or trainer’s tape. Do not wrap too tightly, however, or you can reduce the blood supply.
  • Elevation: Try to keep the affected joint elevated above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling. If your knee or ankle is affected, that may mean you need to stay in bed or on the couch for up to two days after your injury. If you can’t keep it as high as your heart, parallel to the ground is also OK.

For the first 24 to 48 hours after your injury, RICE may make you more comfortable and reduce signs and symptoms.

More severe strains and sprains may require surgery to repair damaged or torn ligaments, tendons, or muscles. If you experience any of the following, see a doctor about your sprain or strain:

  • difficulty walking or standing without pain.
  • inability to move or flex the affected joint.
  • Feeling numbness or tingling around the joint.