Megan Johnson McCullough — Although the two terms “sprain” and “strain” are often used interchangeably, they are not the same type of injury.
A sprain is a tear of a ligament. Ligaments connect bones to bones at the joint intersection. Sprains can happen when a person twist the wrong way, falls, or forcefully hits something. The most common type of sprain occurs at the ankle. In fact, nearly 25,000 people sprain an ankle per day. A baseball player might slide into home plate and sprain their knee. A runner might trip over the curb and sprain their ankle. This injury is also common at the wrist when a person falls and this area absorbs the impact.
Upon diagnosis, a doctor might assign a grade. A Grade I sprain is mild and the joint is still pretty stable. Grade II is a moderate sprain, the joint might be a little loose, and the tear isn’t complete. Finally, a Grade III sprain is when the ligament is completely torn. It feels almost impossible to put weight on the joint.
A strain is tear or stretch that occurs to a muscle or tendon. Tendons link muscles to bones. Strains can happen during contact sports like football or hockey. However, sports with repetitive movements like golf or tennis can also result in strains of the hand or forearm.
When a person experiences pain, inflammation or bruising can occur at the site. This is true for both a sprain or strain. As with any injury, these symptoms can range from mild, moderate to severe. Fortunately, most symptoms can be treated at home with the traditional R.I.C.E. protocol of rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This will help reduce swelling and inflammation. However, for more severe cases, a doctor might perform an MRI or X-ray to be sure that a fracture has not occurred. Some sprains might require a cast or the use of crutches. It is possible that surgery will be needed to repair the tear. Physical therapy might be recommended. Strength training can help improve the surrounding areas as well. The time frame for recovery will vary for each person and depends on severity. Overtime, range of motion will return and the pain will subside. When at home care doesn’t work within 72 hours, it is important to see a doctor.
When the body is put in an abnormal position and impact occurs, the risk of injury increases. A sprained ankle to happen to anyone, anywhere. Sometimes it is just a matter of bad luck. Start with R.I.C.E. immediately and listen to your body’s pain signals. You might be able to walk it off, or you may just have to slow down temporarily until healed.
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