Understanding muscle sprains and strains.
Whether it’s a sports-related accident or simply slipping on a patch of ice, sprains, and strains are some of the most common injuries. Though similar, there is a difference between the two. Both can be incredibly painful and impact daily activities. Understanding your injury can help determine the correct treatment and aid in your recovery.
- A sprain occurs when a ligament (the tissue that connects bones to bones) is torn. Minor sprains involve micro-tearing of the ligament and severe sprains include full rupture of the ligament.
- A strain occurs when a tendon (the tissue that connects muscles to bone) or the muscle itself is torn. Minor strains involve micro-tearing of the tendon and severe strains include full rupture of the tendon.
Not caring for yourself can often result in a repeat injury, and in some cases, long-term conditions. The RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) can aid in recovery. Read on to learn more about sprain and strain causes, symptoms, and treatment.
What are common symptoms?
Taking note of your symptoms will indicate whether you have a sprain or a strain.
- Localized pain at or around a joint
- Difficulty moving the affected area
You may also hear a ‘pop’ at the time of your injury. This usually indicates a more severe injury, including a full tear or rupture.
- Localized pain
- Muscle spasms
- Difficulty moving the affected area
A strain can occur immediately or happen over time through repeated actions that put stress on a specific muscle or tendon.
What are common causes for sprains and strains?
These injuries are usually caused by accidents, like falling or tripping. But they can also be caused by almost any daily activity done inappropriately.
Situations that impact joints are more likely to result in a sprain. Ankle, knee, wrist, and thumb sprains are most common.
- Twisting an ankle or knee when kicking, tripping, or sliding
- Catching yourself hard on the hand or wrist when falling to the ground
- Extending your thumb beyond its normal position when holding tightly to something, like a ski pole or tennis racket
Actions that are strenuous to specific muscle groups are more likely to result in a strain. Back, leg, and arm strains are most common.
- Lifting a heavy object without support
- Repeated vigorous actions like swinging a golf club or rowing a boat
- Long-distance running
Sports are a leading cause of these injuries. Activities that require quick, strategic movement are more likely to result in sprained joints, like soccer, basketball, football, and baseball. Sports that require a lot of repeated motions or moments of intensity are more likely to result in strains, like golf, tennis, gymnastics, and swimming.
A medical professional can assess the severity of the injury and suggest the best specific course of action.
In most situations, the RICE method can be utilized to ensure a safe recovery from both sprains and strains. This simple acronym makes it easy to remember:
- Rest. Rest the affected body part.
- Ice. Apply ice to the affected body part to reduce swelling.
- Compression. Using an ace bandage to wrap the affected body part can also help to reduce swelling and provide some relief.
- Elevate. Whenever possible, elevate the body part above your heart. Using gravity in this way can help to ease swelling and discomfort.
Over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen may also help to relieve pain. As an anti-inflammatory medication, ibuprofen offers the additional benefit of reducing swelling.
Your doctor may also recommend braces, crutches, or a sling to help keep the area immobile and aid in recovery. Use splints, braces, and crutches as advised.
How do you know if you’ve sprained your ankle or if it’s a fracture?
A sprained ankle is one of the most common injuries. However, the symptoms of an ankle sprain and an ankle fracture are eerily similar. Only a doctor will be able to diagnose what you’ve experienced, but there are some symptoms that are more likely to indicate a fracture.
- You cannot bear any weight on the ankle
- Experiencing any tingling or numbness in the affected area
- Pain from the injury is not specific to the joint but extends above into the bone
If you are concerned that you may have fractured your ankle or any bone, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.
How to prevent sprains and strains?
One of the most important prevention measures you can take is to be physically prepared for whatever activity you are participating in.
- Stretch to warm up. Dynamic Stretching can help your muscles to prepare for the activity or sport you’re about to play. You’re less likely to injure yourself if the muscles are warm and supple if you’ve taken the time to warm up beforehand.
- Don’t overdo it. You’re not going to bench 200 lbs. if you’ve never weight trained before. If you’re not physically prepared to partake in an activity, work your way up slowly and safely.
- Have the proper equipment. Make sure that you have the proper equipment for whatever activity you’ll be enjoying. This includes appropriate clothing and footwear. If you go hiking in flip-flops, you’re more likely to trip on a root and sprain your ankle.
- Play it safe. Stay aware of your surroundings and you’ll be less likely to slip on a banana peel or get tackled by a middle linebacker. This awareness can help you stay safe from injury (and score a touchdown).
If you experience a sprain or a strain, it’s common to experience one again. For example, if you have a sprained ankle that isn’t fully recovered, it’s easier for your tender ankle to slip or twist. Take proper precautions to avoid further injury.
While incredibly common, sprains and strains can be a painful inconvenience. If you do experience a sprain or a strain, visit your local vybe urgent care 7 days a week. We’ll offer top-notch treatment and any equipment you’ll need for recovery, like braces, crutches, or slings.