If you are or have ever been an athlete, you’re probably very familiar with strains and sprains. Even if you’re not, most people are not total strangers to these common musculoskeletal injuries. The two terms are often used interchangeably for one another, but they are in fact very different types of injuries.
Sprains involve tearing or over stretching the muscle ligaments. Ligaments are the rubbery connective bands that go from bone to bone, stabilizing the joints and their corresponding movement. Direct trauma (i.e. falling at a bad angle, sliding down stairs, an uneven jump) to the joint is the most common cause of a sprain.
When sprains occur, a pop within the joint or a tearing sensation may be felt immediately. After that, the joint’s functionality will be hindered and is usually accompanied by bruising, swelling, pain, and/or inflammation. The intensity and symptoms will vary from mild to severe depending on the individual and the cause of the sprain.
Strains are the result of an injury directly to the muscle or to its tendon, which connects the muscle to bone. Reoccurring back problems are a common and uncomfortable example of a chronic strain.
The symptoms of a strain include isolated muscle weakness, spasms, swelling, pain, cramping and/or inflammation. As with a sprain, these problems can range from mild to severe, depending on the injury and acute strains are from a direct trauma to the body. However, strains have a tendency to become chronic issues if you continue to perform the same activities that originally caused the injury, as they weaken the muscle or tendon over time.
Even though sprains and strains are two separate kinds of injuries, they are similar in their prevention and treatment.
Warming up your muscles and stretching prior to physical activity has shown to be helpful in preventing joint injuries. Also, shoes that fit well and offer adequate support will go a long way in saving your joints unnecessary damage.
If you find yourself at the mercy of a strain or sprain, people commonly defer to the R.I.C.E. treatment to ease the symptoms: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Of course, severe injuries and reoccurring problems should always be treated by a physician.