1. What is a strain? What is a sprain? What is the difference?
Often times, we get asked these questions. Many of my patients play sports such as basketball, soccer and baseball regularly experience a few strains and/or sprains. I have many patients that do not participate in regular sport activities, however, also encounter the same health problems. Whether low back, ankle or knee, individuals regularly experience strains and sprains. In other words, sprains and strains are common in our population – they happen. Within the next few paragraphs, I will spend time describing and educating about the differences between the two terms: Sprains versus Strains.
2. What is a Sprain?
Sprains are injuries to ligaments, those structures that attach one bone to another creating a joint. A sprain occurs when a ligament is stretched beyond capacity. Any joint can experience a sprain, however the most common sprains occur in the ankle (ATFL – Anterior Talofibular Ligament), knee (ACL – Anterior cruciate ligament, PCL – Posterior cruciate ligament, MCL – Medical Collateral Ligament, LCL – Lateral collateral ligament), fingers, wrists and toes.
The grading of ligament sprains is officially done on a 3 point scale.
Grade 1 is a mild stretch of the ligaments.
Grade 3 is a complete tear of the ligament
Grade 2 is everything in between.
3. How do I treat a ligament sprain?
Although most ligaments in the body have a good healing capability once injured, incorrect healing of these structures can leave the joints which they cover loose and susceptible to re-injury. We provide extensive rehabilitation as well as the manual therapy necessary (including kinesio taping and massage therapy) for the treatment of these injuries. Once the grade of the ligament sprain has been diagnosed, we will provide ice massage (decrease pain/inflammation), interferential current/tens (decrease pain/inflammation), laser therapy (healing), ultrasound (healing) and extensive rehabilitation to help treat strains.
4. What is a Strain?
Strains are injuries that occur to our muscles. Muscle strains often occur due to strenuous activities such as any sudden jerk, heavy lifting, twisting, sport activities and/or while performing job/work tasks. A muscle strain is often times referred to as muscle pull. If a muscle is severely pulled is can result in a muscle tear. This tearing can damage small blood vessels. Damaged small blood vessels causes local bleeding (bruising) and pain.
Muscle strains can occur in any muscle of the body. Strains most often occur during the eccentric portion of a muscular contraction (when the muscle is actively lengthening). When the forces placed on the muscle exceed the muscles force-absorbing capabilities, tearing occurs in the tissue. There are three grades of muscle tears. Grade 1 indicates very minor or micro tearing of the muscle. Grade 2 indicates a more substantial tear of the muscle, however there is still a portion of the tissue that remains intact. A grade 3 tear indicates a complete rupture of the muscle. The severity of a muscle strain can be graded by assessment of the patient’s symptoms and/or by diagnostic ultrasound or MRI. Symptoms include pain with muscular contraction, bruising and swelling in the muscle belly.
5. How do I treat a muscle strain?
Once the grade of the muscle strain has been diagnosed, we will provide ice massage (decrease pain/inflammation), interferential current/tens (decrease pain/inflammation), laser therapy (healing), ultrasound (healing) and extensive rehabilitation to help treat strains.
6. I have a strain/sprain! What do I do now?
Whether you have a strain or sprain, ensure you get it checked out immediately by a health care provider! You do not want to leave it alone and hope things heal. This type of thinking may make things worse or prolong proper healing. As a result, you may make the issue a chronic one that may require much more attention and future treatments.