Injuries are undesirable. Sadly enough, they’re also unavoidable, especially if you work out and push yourself to the limits. Athletes suffer various forms of injuries, some mild and some, excruciatingly painful. Strains and sprains are two very common athletic injuries that reside at the border between mild and painful. Here, we take a look at these injuries and common ways to avoid them.
Sprains are tearing or stretching in the ligaments, which are strong and fibrous bands of connective tissues that connect bones together at joints. In sprains, the ligaments are typically overstretched and they become completely or partially torn. The result is an often excruciating injury that in severe cases requires surgery to heal.
The number of torn ligaments at the joints determines how severe a sprain will be. Sprains affecting a single ligament are typically easily treated and heal faster. However, when more ligaments are involved, especially when one or more of these ligaments are completely torn, then surgery is required to fix it. Mild sprains like wrist sprains may heal with rest and physical therapy within a week. However, severe sprains like anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) sprains typically take more than three months to heal, even after surgery.
Anyone can suffer a sprain typically. Whether you’re young or old, an athlete or not. Overstretching the ligaments in any joint will result in some degree of sprain. However, your risk of suffering a sprain increases if;
- You are tired and do not have good body balance- tired muscles
- You are not in a good body condition or overweight
- You have a history of sprains
- You participate in stressful activities on uneven terrain.
People will typically suffer sprains in joints that are most active. Football players and runners will typically suffer sprains in their knees and ankles. Conversely, tennis and basketball players will typically suffer sprains on their wrists, although ankle and knee sprains are still common among these athletes.
Regardless of severity, sprains will usually present with the same symptoms. These include;
- Swelling like inflammation within the joint or within the tissues surrounding the joint.
- Inability to move and use the joint
- Instability on the joint that carries the body weight like the ankle or knee.
Sprains are rated as mild, moderate or severe based on the degree of tearing or stretching suffered.
- Mild sprain: The ligaments are only slightly stretched.
- Moderate sprain: The ligament is slightly stretched with partial tearing.
- Severe sprain: The ligament is completely torn.
Your doctor can diagnose a sprain. Doctors take history and physical examination to determine consistency in the result. They will examine and check for stability in the joints, swelling, and range of motion. Diagnoses can also be made through imaging tests like X-rays by orthopedics to know the condition of the bone, whether it is broken or not. An X-ray cannot show a ligament, but it can still be helpful to examine the joint spacing and rule out the possibility of fracture. Other imaging types, such as an ultrasound or MRI, may be required to further evaluate the injury, depending on the examination and reaction to the initial treatment.
Strains are injuries caused by twisting or pulling the muscle or tendons. Tendons are tissues that connect the muscles to bones. When strains occur, these connective tissues are overstretched causing them to tear, resulting in excruciating pain. Strains commonly occur in the calves, foot, hamstring, and back muscles.
Strains are very common among athletes and those who perform strenuous jobs. These injuries may occur suddenly, in which case they are regarded as acute. Otherwise, strains may occur over time due to the accumulation of stress on a tendon, in which case they are regarded as chronic. Acute strains are linked to recent trauma or injury; they can also occur due to carrying heavy objects wrongly or overstressing the muscles. Chronic sprains are caused by continuously overusing the muscle and tendon in a repetitive motion.
Some various signs and symptoms come with strains. They are:
- Inflammation and swelling
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle spasm
- Bruising or discoloration
- Difficulty moving the muscle
- Limited motion
Your risk of suffering a strain increases if;
- You play contact sports like football, hockey, boxing, wrestling, and soccer
- You engage in a sport that requires extensive gripping like rowing, golf, gymnastics, tennis, and other types of sports in this category.
- You participate in throwing, racquet, and other sports.
The severity of the injury determines the degree of muscle strains. They include:
- First degree: The muscle tissue is not severely torn or stretched, yet a full range of motion is still possible. Even if a muscle seems stiff, it may nonetheless support the weight.
- Second degree: Motion is restricted because of partial muscle tearing. Second-degree muscle injuries may involve swelling of the muscles as well.
- Third degree: The muscle has undergone substantial tearing, which greatly restricts its usage or renders it completely immobile.
Sprains and strains are often used interchangeably, especially when describing an overstretching or tearing of soft tissues in and around the joint. In a sprain, there is an overstretching or tearing of the ligaments- Ligaments are strong and fibrous bands of connective tissues between bones at joints. The ankle, wrist, and knee are common spots where sprain occurs in the body.
Strains are a pull, stretch, or tear in the muscles connected to the bone. In strain, there is an overstretching or tearing of the muscles or tendons- Tendons are soft tissues that attach the muscles to the bone. The common spots where sprain occurs are the lower back and the hamstring muscle- the muscle at the back of the knee.
Although both injuries have similar symptoms, there are marked differences. The most obvious difference is that sprains present with swelling and tenderness around joints. Meanwhile, a strain, even around a joint region presents with cramping and spasms with more chronic pain.
Sprains and strains are quite common, and frankly, these injuries are virtually unavoidable. There’s a very high chance that you have or will suffer a sprain or strain at one point in your life. Regardless, there are certain measures that can help you reduce your risk of suffering these injuries. They include;
- Stretch and warm-up exercise or other physical activities
- Eat a balanced diet to keep your muscle strength and maintain a healthy weight
- Practice safety measures, whether at home or at work, to prevent injury from falls or hit
- Avoid exercise or sports activities when in pain or tired.
- Ensure that you wear shoes that are fitting
- Use sports equipment that is fitting and practice before using them
- Engage in physical therapy or stretching exercises daily to maintain balance and strength
- Regular exercise helps develop stability and muscle strength.
- Allow your body to rest and rebuild.
- Maintain good body posture
- Wear protective clothing or equipment when playing
- Be in proper condition before engaging in any exercise
- Walk, run, or exercise on even surfaces.
Sprains and strains can heal in the same way. Hence, you should consult your doctor on how you can do the PRICE treatment method for the first 24-48 hours after the injury. What does PRICE mean?
- Protection: Once you have been injured, you must protect the affected area by avoiding movement or placing weight or pressure on the affected joints, as this can help your joint heal faster and restore alignment. You may use crutches, brace, or other assistive devices to protect the injured area.
- Rest: If you have either sprain or strain, avoid or reduce your level of exercise and physical activities that you do daily. You need to allow your body and the injured area to rest to help quick recovery.
- Ice: Ice can also help in treating sprain and strain. Apply a pack of ice to the injured area for 10 minutes. This should be done 4-8 times a day, with the ice pack wrapped in a towel. However, do not apply the ice pack for more than 20 minutes at a time to prevent cold injury and frostbite. If you feel uneasy or numb, you should stop icing.
- Compression: Applying continuous pressure on the affected area can help reduce the swelling. You can also use an ACE bandage to wrap the injured area to prevent distal swelling. The bandage should feel tight but not very tight to the extent of cutting blood flow or feeling uneasy. Asides from bandages, you can also use compression stockings.
- Elevation: Another treatment plan is elevation. Placing the injured area elevated or above your heart level can help reduce the swelling.
After the PRICE treatment method, rehabilitation is the second stage of treating a sprain and strain. The purpose of rehabilitation is to help improve the condition and restore the functions of the affected area. In rehabilitation, your doctor will prescribe exercise programs to help restore your joint’s flexibility, prevent stiffness, increase strength, and improve your range of motion. However, you may need a physical therapist to help you through this stage. The exercise prescribed and the program’s duration depends on the injury’s severity and the patient’s rates of healing. For instance, a mild ankle sprain may take 3-6 weeks of rehabilitation; a moderate sprain could take 8 to 12 weeks, while a severe sprain can take up to 8 to 12 months to recover.
Sprain and strain are often used interchangeably because you experience pain in joint areas after a fall or hit. Having discussed the differences, it is important to know that the treatment for sprain and strain are similar. You should visit your doctor immediately if you experience a sprain and strain so they determine whether the injury is minor or need serious medical attention. After recovery, you should be careful not to reinjure again.