What’s the Difference? Are They Treated Differently?
You twisted your ankle playing basketball or tennis, and now it hurts every time you put pressure on it. Is it a strain or a sprain? What’s the difference? Should they be treated differently?
Strains vs. Sprains—the Medical Difference
There’s a common misperception that strains and sprains are simply different degrees of the same type of injury. That’s not true. While both involve connective tissue, a strain affects your muscles or tendons, but a sprain affects ligaments only. (Ligaments are tissue that connect bones together, while tendons are tissue that connect bones to muscle.) A strain occurs when you tear or overstretch muscles or tendons, whereas a sprain is the tearing or overstretching of ligaments. A sprain may limit your movement to a greater extent—because you may not be able to use the joint connected to the ligament—but technically a sprain is not worse than a strain.
Symptoms of Sprains and Strains
Because sprains and strains both involve overstretching and tearing, their symptoms have many similarities. You can expect pain and swelling at the site of the injury, particularly around the joint. Pain is typically more intense when you try to flex the joint, so anticipate a loss of range of motion and flexibility. With a muscle strain, you may experience spasms. A sprained ligament customarily turns black and blue from bruising.
Diagnosis of Sprains and Strains
Sprains and strains are not the types of injuries to show up on an X-ray or MRI, but after conducting a physical exam, your doctor might order an imaging test to rule out the possibility of a break.
Treatment of Strains and Sprains
For minor strains and sprains, the RICE approach is the first line of treatment:
- Rest—Avoid unnecessary use of the affected joint for a couple of days, but
don’t stay off it for too long. Your muscles may tighten up, making it more
painful when you try to return to normal activities.
- Ice—Wrap an ice pack in a thin towel and apply directly to the affected area
for 20 minutes, three to four times a day.
- Compression—Use trainer’s tape, an Ace-type bandage, or a compression
sleeve to reduce swelling, but don’t wrap too tightly, as you may cut off
- Elevation—Keeping the affected joint above your head will help reduce
More severe strains and sprains may require a surgical procedure, particularly if there’s a tear in your ligament, tendon, or muscle.
Contact SOAR for Treatment of a Sprain or Strain
At SOAR, we can effectively diagnose and treat any type of soft-tissue injury, including a sprain or strain. For more information about the range of services we offer, contact us today or call our offices at 844-434-SOAR.