Two of the most common orthopedic injuries are sprains and strains. But do you know the difference between the two? If not, it’s not surprising since the two terms are often used interchangeably, involve the overstretching or tearing of soft tissue inside and around a joint, and both share similar symptoms such as pain, swelling, limited flexibility, and difficulty with the joint’s range of motion.
Nevertheless, there are differences between a sprain and a strain and knowing those differences can be helpful in your recovery should you sustain either injury.
A sprain involves the overstretching or tearing of a ligament, the tissue that connects two bones in a joint. That’s why most sprains occur in your ankle joint.
A strain, on the other hand, involves the overstretching or tearing of a muscle or tendon, the fibrous cords of tissue that your bones to muscles. The most likely area for a muscle strain is your lower back or the hamstring muscle located in the back of your thigh.
But the differences between a sprain and a strain don’t end there. With a sprain, you may see bruising around the affected joint, while with a strain, you may suffer from spasms in the affected muscle.
Naturally, sprains and strains are common among athletes and those who vigorously exercise. However, if your work requires prolonged repetitive motion, frequent exertion, or heavy lifting, you’re at greater risk of straining any muscle in your body or spraining a knee, ankle, wrist or thumb joint.
Treatment for sprains and strains depend on the severity of the injury. Mild cases can be treated with a technique popularly known as R.I.C.E. That stands for:
- Rest – resting the affected joint while it heals
- Ice – icing the area to help reduce swelling and inflammation
- Compression – wrapping the joint with a bandage or tape to help reduce swelling
- Elevation – keeping the joint above the level of your heart or in the case of a knee or ankle injury, aloft and parallel to the floor to help reduce swelling by
If it’s a mild sprain or strain, expect to resume limited activities within a few days. If it’s a moderate injury, it may take at least a week to heal. And, if it’s a more severe injury requiring surgery to repair a damaged or torn ligament, tendon or muscle – a longer recovery period will be necessary and possibly some physical therapy until you regain your strength and range of motion.
You can help prevent sprains and strains by following these simple steps:
- Be sure to stretch and warm up before working out or playing sports; this will give your joints time to prepare for physical activity
- Exercise on a regular basis to keep your muscles flexible and strong
- Be aware and cautious of slippery conditions to avoid a fall
- Take periodic breaks so that you don’t have to stand or sit too long or place a strain on your muscles whenever performing repetitive motions
- Use proper exercise and sports equipment that provide the support your joints need
If you or a loved one are in pain due to an injury, you need to consult a reputable, board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon who can educate you about your options. The staff at Orthopaedic Associates utilizes both cutting-edge therapies and traditional treatments to address a variety of painful conditions. For more information, or to schedule a consultation, call (440) 892-1440.