SPRAINS AND STRAINS: DEFINITION, DIFFERENCES, SYMPTOMS, DIAGNOSIS, TREATMENT AND PREVENTION

WHAT IS A SPRAIN

A joint sprain is the over stretching or tearing of ligaments. Ligaments are the bands of tissue that connect two bones together in a joint. The most common location for a sprain is the ankle joint.

 

WHAT IS A STRAIN

A joint strain is the over stretching or tearing of muscles or tendons. Tendons are the dense fibrous cords of tissue that connect bones to muscles. The most common locations for a muscle strain are the hamstring muscle and the lower back.

 

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SPRAIN AND A STRAIN?
The main difference is that with a sprain you may have bruising around the affected joint, whereas with a strain, you may have spasms in the affected muscle.

 

WHERE DO SPRAINS OCCUR?

You can have a sprain in any joint in the body but the most vulnerable spots include those at higher risk of injury from falls and trauma within both the upper and lower parts of the body. The three most common spots for sprains are the ankle, knee and wrist.

Ankle sprain: This type of sprain typically happens when the foot turns inward as you run, turn or land on the ankle after a jump.

Knee sprain: Typically, this occurs after a blow to the knee or a fall. Sudden twisting of the knee may result in a sprain.

Wrist sprain: This sprain often happens when you fall and land on an outstretched hand.

 

SYMPTOMS OF SPRAINS

Common symptoms of sprains include:

  • Bruising
  • Pain around the affected joint
  • Swelling
  • Limited flexibility
  • Difficulty using the joint’s full range of motion

Common symptoms of strains include:

  • Muscle spasm
  • Pain around the affected joint
  • Swelling
  • Limited flexibility
  • Difficulty using the joint’s full range of motion

 

DIAGNOSIS A SPRAIN OR STRAIN

Your doctor will examine the injured area and ask when and how your injury occurred, and asks about any prior injuries. If the injury is mild, an x-ray may not be taken. If your injury is more severe, a variety of diagnostic tests may be done to get detailed images of the injury. These include:

X-rays

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

CT scans

 

TREATMENT OF SPRAINS

For immediate self-care of a sprain, try the R.I.C.E. approach — rest, ice, compression, and elevation:

  • Avoid activities that cause pain, swelling or discomfort. But don’t avoid all physical activity.
  • Even if you’re seeking medical help, ice the area immediately. Use an ice pack or slush bath of ice and water for 15 to 20 minutes each time and repeat every two to three hours while you’re awake for the first few days after the injury.
  • To help stop swelling, compress the area with an elastic bandage until the swelling stops. Don’t wrap it too tightly or you may hinder circulation. Begin wrapping at the end farthest from your heart. Loosen the wrap if the pain increases, the area becomes numb or swelling is occurring below the wrapped area.
  • Elevate the injured area above the level of your heart, especially at night, which allows gravity to help reduce swelling.

Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) also can be helpful.

After the first two days, gently begin to use the injured area. You should see a gradual, progressive improvement in the joint’s ability to support your weight or your ability to move without pain.

A physical therapist can help you to maximize stability and strength of the injured joint or limb. Your doctor may suggest that you immobilize the area with a brace or splint. For some injuries, such as a torn ligament, surgery may be considered.

 

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR SPRAIN OR STRAIN TO HEAL

 

If you have a sprain or strain that’s taking longer than usual to get better, a GP may be able to refer you to a physiotherapist.

Mild sprains typically begin to feel better in a few days to a week and heal by six weeks. More severe ankle sprains could take more than a few weeks or months to fully recover. Severe sprains may cause excruciating pain, crutches may be needed. A return to regular activities may be delayed for weeks or months.

 

DO YOU EVER NEED SURGERY FOR A SPRAIN OR A STRAIN?

Depending on the joint involved and severity of sprain, sometimes surgery is needed to treat a sprain. If a surgery consult is recommended, they will evaluate the injury, the potential to heal both with and without surgery and make recommendations for the best recovery based on your age, activity level and risk factors involved with surgery.

 

PREVENTION OF SPRAIN AND STRAIN

  • Exercise consistently to maintain strength.
  • Warm up and stretch before sports.
  • Avoid exercise when tired or in pain.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet to keep muscles strong.
  • Be aware of falling hazards (dark stairways, uneven sidewalks, toys on the floor)
  • Keep shoes in good shape and fitting well / not worn out.
  • Wear protective equipment or braces during sports.