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The Facts Put Simply

Learn About Sprains and Strains.

Subject matter Quick Links for this page…

1) What Is the Difference Between Sprains and Strains?
2) Facts about Sprains and Strains
3) Who is at risk?
4) Causes
5) What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Sprains?
6) What can you do to prevent Strains & Sprains?
7) What can you do to combat Strains & Sprains?

What Is the Difference Between Sprains and Strains?

When engaged in physical activities, you may experience sudden pain and swelling around a joint or a muscle. This may occur when you stretch too far, change direction or slow down abruptly, land awkwardly, or collide with another person or object. The resulting injury may be a sprain or a strain.

In simple terms a strain affects muscles while a sprain affects ligaments.

Here is a little more detail to distinguish between sprains and strains:

A sprain is an over-stretching or tearing of ligaments. Ligaments are resilient bands of fibrous connective tissue that join one bone to another. Their job is to stabilize joints and prevent excessive movement. They are frequently caused by rapid changes in direction or by an impact and most commonly occur at the ankle, wrist and knee joints.

A strain is an over-stretching or tearing of muscle. This type of injury often occurs when muscles suddenly and powerfully contract — or when a muscle is over stretched. People commonly call muscle strains "pulled" muscles. The most common strains occur in the leg, neck and back muscles.

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Facts about Sprains and Strains:

Sprains and strains vary in severity and recuperation time required. Mild strains and sprains take from 1 to 4 weeks to heal, whereas a severe ankle sprain may require 8 months to a year to completely heal. Strains are not typically as serious as sprains and symptoms depend on the severity of the injury.

Sprain facts:
• A sprain is an over-stretching or tearing of ligaments
• A sprain can cause rapid swelling
• The most common sprains are to your wrist, ankle, knee and fingers
• More than 25,000 individuals sprain an ankle each day in the United States
• Generally, the greater the pain and swelling, the more severe the injury

The categories of sprains are:
o Mild sprain - Your ligament stretches excessively or tears slightly. The area is somewhat painful, especially with movement. It's tender. There's not a lot of swelling. You can put weight on the joint.
o Moderate sprain - The fibers in your ligament tear, but they don't rupture completely. The joint is tender, painful and difficult to move. The area is swollen and may be discolored from bleeding in the area. You may feel unsteady when you try to bear weight on your leg.
o Severe sprain - One or more ligaments tear completely. The area is painful. You can't move your joint normally or put weight on it. If you try to walk, your leg feels as if it will give way. The joint becomes very swollen and also can be discolored. The injury may be difficult to distinguish from a fracture or dislocation, which requires medical care. You may need a brace to stabilize the joint or surgical repair in certain ligament injuries.

The ankle joint is supported by several lateral (outside) ligaments and medial (inside) ligaments.

Most ankle sprains happen when the foot turns inward as a person runs, turns, falls, or lands on the ankle after a jump. This type of sprain is called an inversion injury.

Sprains happen most often in the ankle.

Strain facts:
• A strain is an over-stretching or tearing of muscle
• The most common strains are to your back, neck and hamstring. Whiplash is an example of a strain to your neck muscles.

The categories of strains are:
o Mild strain – Muscles are stretched so that movement causes pain and stiffness. Symptoms last only a few days.
o Moderate sprain - Partial muscle tears result in more extensive pain, swelling and bruising. The pain may last one to three weeks.
o Severe strain - The muscle is torn apart or ruptured. There may be significant bleeding, swelling and bruising around the muscle. The muscle may cease to function and surgical repair may be required.

• A chronic strain has long term ramifications and is usually caused by the overuse or misuse of muscles the same way over and over
• An acute strain is a short term affliction resulting from a recent trauma or injury

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Who is at risk?

Strains and sprains are a hazard of everyday life and can affect anyone and everyone at some point in their lifetime.

• The greater the level of your physical activity the greater the chance for injury. For example, a professional athlete has a greater risk of injury than a secretary and a construction worker has a great risk than a stay at home mom.
• The weaker your muscles or tendons the less stable your joints are and as a result the greater the risk of injury

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Causes of Sprains and Strains

What Causes a Strain?

Sprains and strains occur commonly, and most result in minor injuries.

Strains are often the result of a quick & jarring movement (such as whiplash to the neck & back) or putting too much load (pressure) on a muscle, such as happens when lifting a heavy object.

They are more likely to occur when you over-stress the muscle by:
• Not warming up the muscles and joints prior to engaging in physical activity
• Aggressively engaging in a sport or activity after a period of inactivity
• Compensating for another injury by shifting the load from one muscle/joint group to another
• Lifting heavy objects in an incorrect manner
• Participating in physical activities with poor form

Other common causes for muscle strains are:

• Slipping on ice or wet floors
• Other accidents such as automobile collisions

What Causes a Sprain?

A sprain is the result of over-stretching or tearing a ligament while severely stressing a joint through too much load or a sudden impact/twisting trauma. Twisting a knee or an ankle are 2 very common forms of sprains.

A sprain is more likely to occur if you: • Walk or exercise on an uneven surface
• Engage in physical activities that cause you to land or twist awkwardly
• Do not warm up the muscles and joints prior to engaging in physical activity
• Aggressively engage in a sport or activity after a period of inactivity, while in poor condition or while tired
• Engage in physical activity while injured. This may unconsciously cause you to compensate by shifting the load from one muscle/joint group to another
• Lift heavy objects in an incorrect manner
• Participate in physical activities with poor form

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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Sprains?

• Localized pain
• General area swelling and bruising
• Joint instability
• Loss of mobility in the joint
• Loss of strength in the joint
• In some cases an audible “pop” can be heard as the ligament tears

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Strains?

• Localized pain
• Swelling & inflammation
• Muscle spasms and cramping
• Reduced muscle strength
• Loss of mobility in the joint
• Loss of strength in the joint
• In some cases an audible “pop” can be heard as the muscle tears

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What can you do to prevent Strains & Sprains?

• Strong joints need strong muscles and strong muscles are your best defence! Engage in regular stretching and strengthening exercises
• If your muscles alone aren’t proving to be enough protection then tape, brace or wrap the joints which are predisposed to injury, prior to engaging in physical activity
• Use proper footwear that offers good arch support and ankle protection as required and replace often
• Avoid strenuous physical activities when tired or in pain
• A part of building a strong body, maintain a healthy weight and eat a well-balanced diet
• Be aware of your surroundings so that you are not a victim of ice, water or any other environmental condition that could surprise you
• Slip & Fall protect your surroundings. For example put a slip guard in your tub, keep stairways free of clutter, anchor your throw rugs, etc.
• Walk and run on even surfaces to prevent ankle twists

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What can you do to combat Strains & Sprains?

In most cases beyond a minor strain or sprain, you'll want to seek he advice of your doctor.

For immediate self-care of a sprain or strain, use the P.R.I.C.E. approach — Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

Protect the area from further injury. Immobilizing the joint plays an important role here and can be immediately accomplished by using a splint or sling. In severe instances your doctor or therapist may place a cast or brace around the affected area to protect it.
Short term rest for the body is valuable as it allows time for the entire body to get over the trauma. Longer term continue activities to maintain overall body conditioning but avoid activities that cause pain, swelling or discomfort to the affected joint.
Always ice the area immediately. Use an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes at a time and repeat every two to three hours while you're awake for the first 48 to 72 hours. Cold reduces pain, swelling and inflammation in injured muscles, joints and connective tissues. It also may slow bleeding if a tear has occurred. If the area turns white, stop the ice treatment immediately as you may be inflicting frostbite.
A compression bandage can be applied to help stop swelling and to provide some support. Do not wrap it too tightly or you may negatively impact blood circulation. You should wrap from the extremity in towards your heart. Be sure to monitor the appendage for numbness, swelling or loss of color in the area just outside of the bandage. Loosen the wrap if any of these symptoms occur.
Gravity will help reduce the swelling if you elevate the injured area above the level of your heart. Be sure to do this at night also.

• Medicines, such as aspirin and ibuprofen can be used to relive pain and decrease swelling
• After treating the pain and swelling, doctors usually say to exercise the injured area. This usually occurs with 2 to 3 days and helps to prevent stiffness and increase strength.
• Physical therapy may be required for several weeks. Your doctor or physical therapist will tell you when you can start to do normal activities, including sports. If you begin too soon, you can injure the area again
• Severe sprains and strains may require surgery by an orthopaedic surgeon to repair the torn ligaments, muscle, or tendons
• Do not return to full activity before regaining normal range of motion, flexibility, and strength or you increase the chance of re-injury and developing a chronic problem.

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