Strains and sprains happen to elite athletes — and they can happen to you. What are strains and sprains?
► The terms strain and sprain are not interchangeable.
► A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon. Your tendons are the cords of fiber that connect your muscles to your bones. As an example, you can feel your Achilles tendon above your heel.
Strains can vary in severity. You may simply overstretch a muscle or tendon, or you may tear a muscle or tendon. Inflammation of the muscle or tendon can also cause a strain.
You can get a strain from an injury. We call this an acute strain.
You can get a strain from overuse of the muscles or tendons. We call this a chronic strain. It happens when your muscles and tendons make a specific movement over and over, such running. You can also get a muscle strain from something as simple as lifting a heavy object without using proper technique.
Strains are most common in the back and the hamstring muscle (the large muscle at the back of the thigh).
Contact sports can put you at risk for strains. You can also get strains in your hands and arms from non-contact activities such as tennis, gymnastics, rowing, golf and other sports where you need to use your grip.
► The signs of a strain include pain in the area of the strain, limited motion around the strain, muscle spasms and sometimes muscle weakness or limited function in the injured area. You may also notice localized swelling, cramping or inflammation.
If the strain is more severe, such as with a partial or complete tear of the muscle or tendon, the injured area can be very painful and movement can be extremely limited.
► A sprain is a stretch and/or tear of one or more ligaments. Your ligaments are the cords of fiber that connect your bones at the joints.
Sprains can vary in severity. A sprain can involve a partial or complete tear, and more than one ligament can be involved.
Sprains can occur in the legs and arms — the most common joint to sprain is the ankle.
► The signs of a sprain include localized pain, swelling, bruising, instability of the joint or affected area, and loss of joint movement and use. These symptoms can vary depending on how severe the injury is. Some people feel a pop or tear when the sprain happens.
► If you have a joint injury, you should see your health care professional if you notice:
You should also see a health care provider if:
Around 628,000 sprains happen each year. If you’re prone to ankle sprains, visit with a physiotherapist about exercises you can do to strengthen your ankles, which will help prevent future sprains.
► Treatment for strains and sprains is similar.
The first strain or sprain treatment goal is to reduce swelling and pain. Your health care provider may recommend an over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory to help with that.
RICE is an effective treatment approach for the first 24 to 48 hours:
The next step in treatment is rehabilitation. The goal is to help the affected area heal properly and restore normal function.
Your health care provider may recommend an exercise program that will help prevent stiffness, improve the range of motion and return the joint’s and muscles’ flexibility and strength. Physical therapy may also be prescribed.
By following the recommendations of your health care provider, after rehabilitation, you should be back to your normal self and have your range of motion back.
► You can take steps to prevent strains and sprains. The National Institutes of Health recommend you: