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Sprains Vs. Strains

When a joint injury occurs, you’ll want to act swiftly to ensure further damage isn’t done. But if you’ve ever had trouble identifying the difference between a joint sprain or strain, you’re not alone. Here’s what you need to know:

Recognizing the Difference

It’s important to understand that both sprain and strain injuries occur at the joint, and symptoms can be almost identical. The main difference between the two is where the damage occurs in the joint. A sprain is the overstretching or tearing of ligaments, while a strain is an overstretching or tearing of muscles or tendons. The most common area for a sprain injury is the ankle and for strains is the hamstring or lower back.

Causes of Sprains

A sprain often happens suddenly, and symptoms can vary in severity based on the amount of tissue fibers that were torn. Sports injuries, a sudden twist or pivot, or running on an uneven surface can all result in a sprain.

Causes of Strains

Strains can be sudden (acute) or develop over time. An acute strain often occurs from heavy lifting, strenuous activities to the joints such as jumping, running, or throwing, or from a slip or fall.

Symptoms of a Sprain or Strain

The main thing to understand is that symptoms for both injuries are virtually the same. The correct way to identify the difference is that a strain can cause muscle spasms in the affected muscle, whereas a sprain will often lead to bruising. Shared symptoms include:

  • Pain in the affected area
  • Swelling
  • Limited flexibility and range of motion of the affected joint

Treatment Techniques for Mild Sprains and Strains

When a sprain or strain occurs, at-home treatment can help reduce swelling and relieve pressure. Remember RICE:

  • Rest the area and withhold from all physical activity
  • Ice 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours
  • Compress the area with a bandage or trainers tape
  • Elevate when possible

If pain worsens, home treatment isn’t helping, or you have difficulty putting pressure on it, it’s time to seek medical treatment.

Whether you are looking to treat a new injury or want to improve a chronic one, Methodist Sports Medicine is here to help you get back to peak performance. See the full list of services we offer or to make an appointment, or contact us today!