Sprain or Strain?
Sprain or strain? We all have heard our friends and family or ourselves say at one time or another, “I strained my leg,” or “I sprained my ankle.” Here are tips on how to tell if it’s a sprain or a strain, and what to do if you have one or the other.
“According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) sprains and strains consistently rank as one of most frequent – if not the most frequent – occupational injuries in both the government and private business sectors. In 2014, there were 420,870 of these cases requiring days away from work to recuperate……Workers who suffered sprains and strains needed up to 10 days away from work, compared to 9 days for all other types of injuries or illnesses.1
Strains and sprains are very common sports injuries and workplace injuries. They can also occur at home, while doing some strenuous work or exercises. Slips and falls can also lead to strains and sprains.
When you stretch or tear your ligaments—those strong bands of fibrous tissues that connect two bones together in the joints, you have a sprain. Sprain occurs mostly in your ankle.
Depending on the severity of the injury, you may feel pain and thus unable to move the affected part. It may swell or bruise, or you may hear or feel a “pop” in the affected area at the time of injury.
You need to do the following: immediately rest, put ice on the affected joint, apply compression, and elevate the affected area. These home remedies are efficient and can successfully treat your sprain. But if pain becomes increasingly unbearable or there is no relief after applying the home remedies, you may have severe sprain. This is when it is important to see a doctor. Major sprains can sometimes require surgery.
Note the various treatment or healing stages of sprain:
Stage 1 –During the first 24-72 hours, protect the injured area, properly diagnose the extent of the injury, and follow the PRICE regimen (see below). You may move gently if there is no pain.
Stage 2 – With aforementioned home remedies and the PRICE regimen, swelling and stiffness should have been reduced. You will now begin to move around more normally.
Stage 3 – You completely regain full and normal functions and mobility.
When you injure your muscle or the tendons—those bands of tissue that attach muscles to the bone, you have a strain. Muscle or tendon injuries usually occur when overstretching, overworking (fatigue), or “straining” your muscles too much.
Strains can happen in any muscle, but they mostly occur in your lower back, neck, shoulder, and hamstring (muscle behind your thigh).
When you have a strain, you will feel a sudden onset of pain and experience limited movement in the affected area. There may be soreness, bruising, swelling, stiffness, muscle spasms, weakness, and “knotted up” feeling.
You can have home remedies for mild to moderate strains. You may apply ice and/or heat to the affected area, and take anti-inflammatory medications. Just like sprain, when there is no relief from these treatment methods, you may have severe strain and should consult a doctor.
Here are the things to look out for in order to ascertain how severe your strain or sprain is.
Grade 1 strain or sprain (mild) – Mild tenderness and minimal swelling. This grade suggests there is only minimal over-stretching and possibly minor microscopical tears in the fibrous tissues.
Grade 2 strain or sprain (moderate) – Moderate pain, tenderness and swelling; unable to apply loading to injured area without pain. This indicates a partial tearing of fibrous tissues.
Grade 3 strain or sprain (severe) – Significant pain and swelling, tenderness and swelling; unable to move the affected area. This shows complete tearing of the affected fibrous structure.
PRICE stands for Protection, Rest, I, Compression and Elevation. It provides the steps to what you should do on the first 24-48 hours of suffering from a mild sprain, strain, or similar sports injury.
Protect the injured area from force, pressure, or mobility. Use a sling or a splint, if necessary.
While it is, in fact, encouraged to go about your normal activities, take frequent and regular rests, and avoid movements that cause more pain or more swelling. Try to gently move your injured body part for 10 to 20 seconds every hour.
Hold an ice pack/gel pack/sports sprays or crushed ice in a damp towel against the affected area for 5-10 minutes. The towel is to avoid ice burn. Do this every 2-3 hours.
After 2 days, you may use a heat pad or a hot water bottle if you find this more soothing. Don’t make it too hot so as to cause burning. Do this for 10 to 15 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day.)
Apply compression by wrapping the affected area with bandage or tubigrip type of support until the swelling goes down. Wrap the bandage snugly but not too tightly, starting from the end furthest from your heart. Loosen the bandage if it causes pain or numbness. Do not wear bandage or tubigrip in bed at night.
Elevate the affected area above the heart level, especially when sitting or lying down. Support with pillows or slings.
In order to prevent future occurrences of fibrous tissue injury, conduct regular stretching and strengthening exercises. It is important to condition your body first before trying a new sport, or doing some heavy physical work. Especially, once you’ve had sprain or strain, you will need to start working on strengthening the muscles around the area that has been injured. Strong and healthy muscles provide the best protection against these types of injuries. Likewise, make sure that you wear footwear that provide stability and support.
1 TerranearPMC Safety Share
“Soft Tissue Injuries: Sprains And Strains – What Are They & What Is The Best Treatment?” by Phil Mack, Consultant Sports Physiotherapist, The Physiotherapy Clinics; last accesssed 7/12/2019
“Sprains,” Mayo Clinic; last accesssed 7/12/2019
Price Guidelines, “NHS Inform; last accesssed 7/12/2019
“Muscle Strains,” Healthline; last accesssed 7/12/2019