What are Strains and Sprains?
Sprains and strains are fairly common injuries with similar symptoms, although they involve different parts of the body. Both sprains and strains can range from mild to severe, depending on the number of muscles and ligaments involved, and how badly they’re damaged.
A sprain occurs when you stretch or tear a ligament − or the short band of flexible tissue that connects bones and cartilage or holds together a joint. A sprain can happen in any part of the body where ligaments are found such as sprained ankles, wrists, feet and knees.
Strains occur when muscles and/or tendons are stretched or torn. Large muscle strains, such as hamstrings and hip flexors, are particularly common.
What Causes Sprains and Strains?
Sprains and strains typically occur at joints such as wrists, ankles and knees because these areas are subject to rapid shifting movements, such as when you suddenly change direction. Those who play contact sports may have a higher risk for a sprain or strain. Beyond requiring quick changes in direction, these activities often lead to collisions and falls which may increase the overall risk of injury.
One example is an ankle sprain, which can occur when the foot turns inward or outward, at which point the ligament is stretched on the opposite side of the foot.
Symptoms of Sprains and Strains
The symptoms of sprains or strains can range from mild to severe.
Mild: Excessive stretching or a slight tear of the ligament may lead to a small sprain or strain. There is a minor amount of swelling and tenderness, but it's possible to put weight on the joint.
Moderate: A torn ligament occurs when the fibers in the ligament tear but are not completely ruptured. The joint is tender, painful and difficult to move. The injured area is swollen and possibly discolored from bleeding. You may also experience some unsteadiness when weight is put on the affected area of the joint.
Severe: One or more ligaments tear completely. The joint won’t move normally or hold weight. The joint is very swollen and possibly discolored. It may be difficult to distinguish a severe sprain or strain from a fracture or dislocation.
Treating Sprains or Strains
Properly treating a strained or sprained ankle, wrist or knee can help prevent ongoing problems. This is particularly true for those with repeated or severe sprains, which can develop into long-term joint pain and weakness. If you are dealing with a high frequency of these injuries you may need to speak to your provider about starting an ongoing physical therapy program.
Minor injuries may often be treated with RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), which can be particularly helpful during the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury to reduce swelling and pain.
For more severe injuries, especially if there was a popping sound at the time of the injury, considerable swelling, if the injury is not improving quickly or if the injured joint can't bear weight, visit your neighborhood MedExpress center. We can evaluate the injury and take any necessary X-rays to determine the severity and the best possible treatment options. For more severe injuries, you may require a period of not putting weight on the injury and a specialist referral. While most sprains and strains are able to heal on their own, more severe injuries may require surgery.