Strain vs. Sprain Explained
A strain vs. sprain depends on whether or not muscles, tendons and/or ligaments are stretched or torn. Strains are the more serious version that impact muscles and tendons (the thick bands that attach muscles to bones). They occur from quick twists, tears, or pulls of the muscle. Pain, weakness and spasms are common symptoms of this acute injury that results from overstretching or contraction. Bruising is sometimes present, but you can more easily diagnose a strain from pain when contracting or stretching the muscle. MRI can help determine the extent of the damage and initial rest (for some weeks) is recommended. This may be followed by physical therapy (PT) and strengthening exercises in later healing phases. A doctor or physical therapist can make sound recommendations based on severity, and total healing can typically be achieved in 6-8 weeks.
Sprains affect ligaments (thick bands of cartilage that attach bones to bones) and they occur in response to stretches or tears. Injury is often related to a fall or outside force that displaces the joint from its normal alignment. Sprains can be detected by bruising, swelling, pain with movement and instability, and most often occur in the ankle, knee, and wrist. There are special tests to determine the ligament affected and an MRI may be required to determine the extent of the injury. Physical therapy and strengthening exercises help support full recovery and surgery may be needed for the most severe (torn ACL for example).
Use the RICE method for initial treatment and relief from strains or sprains:
R – REST for 24-48 hours and use crutches or other assistance as necessary to move.
I – ICE the area for 20 minutes every 3-4 hours for the first two days after the injury
C – COMPRESSION with an ACE bandage or other wrap snuggly, but not to the point of cutting off circulation.
E – ELEVATE above the heart if possible using pillows during sleep to maintain as much as you can.
Mild sprains and strains can generally be treated successfully at home. More severe injuries may require medical intervention. Some can also cause fractures. According to the Mayo Clinic, you’ll want to seek medical attention if any of the following are true:
- You can’t walk more than four steps without significant pain
- You can’t move the affected joint
- You have pain directly over the bones of an injured joint
- You have numbness in any part of the injured area
Here is their link for more information: Mayo Clinic: Sprains & Strains.