Sprains and Strains Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
Twisting your ankle can be tough, but you’re not alone. More than 1 million people go to the emergency room every year due to an ankle injury. These type of injuries can happen to anybody, which is why it’s a good idea to know all about sprains and strains and how you might prevent one.
Common Questions About Sprains and Strains
What’s the difference between a sprain and a strain?
Both sprains and strains are common injuries that involve stretching or tearing tissues. The difference lies in the type of tissues. A sprain occurs when a ligament (tissue connecting joints) is torn. On the other hand, a strain concerns a muscle or tendon (tissue connecting muscles). At first glance, sprains and strains seem the same, but their symptoms and causes are distinct.
Where do sprains and strains happen?
The most common sprain is in the ankle. But other tissues can be affected, including the hand, wrist or thumb. Since sprains often occur during physical activity, it depends on what sport you’re playing at the moment. For example, tennis players may experience wrist sprains because they use this area of the body a lot during matches.
What are symptoms of sprains and strains?
Remember that sprains and strains affect distinct tissues, which means they’ll feel differently. While both are painful and limit motion, a sprain will involve swelling, stiffness and bruising. In contrast, strains will cause swelling, stiffness, cramping and spasms. This makes sense because strains involve muscles or tendons, and therefore cause muscular cramps and spasms. Sprains, on the other hand, more closely affect the joint area and may feel tender to the touch.
What causes sprains and strains?
- Ankle: Running on uneven surfaces, or landing awkwardly after a jump.
- Knee: Turning or pivoting while playing a sport.
- Wrist: Falling and landing on a hand.
- Thumb: Overextending the thumb while playing a racquet sport.
What are risk factors for sprains and strains?
- general chronic ankle instability
- weak ligaments or muscles
- playing sports that involve jumping and running (such as volleyball, basketball or soccer)
Natural Treatment of Sprains and Strains
- Rest: Don’t walk on your ankle. Limit use and consider using a brace to stabilize your ankle.
- Ice: Apply ice to the injured area for up to 20 minutes at a time. This will help reduce swelling.
- Compression: Wrap your ankle in bandages to support the area and promote healing.
- Elevation: Prop your foot up at waist level to help blood flow.
How can I stretch and strengthen the sprained and strained area?
The American Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Society has an excellent set of stretches to follow during your recovery. These stretches include foot lifts, foot tilts, pointing toes, ankle drops and squats. You can see specific instructions and photos for these stretches here. They also have a series of strengthening exercises that involve resistance, which will help prevent future injuries.
How can I prevent future injuries?
Once you’re healed, you’ll want to follow these guidelines to prevent re-injury:
- Conditioning programs to support your sport playing
- Using high-quality footwear and equipment
- Focusing on proper form and posture, such as for sprained ankle treatments
- Exercising on safe, flat surfaces
- Stopping exercising when you feel pain
- Seeing a regular physical therapist for stability and strengthen exercises