Learn more about the two most common sports injuries of all.
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What’s The Difference? Both sprains and strains involve stretching or tearing of soft tissues. The difference between these two injuries lies in the type of soft tissue that’s injured. Sprains are injuries to ligaments, the tough fibrous tissues that connect two or more bones at a joint. Strains are injuries to muscles or tendons, which connect the muscles to the bones.
More About Sprains
- often caused by landing on an outstretched limb or a sudden twist
- usually hurts right away
- pain may coincide with a heard or felt “pop” in the joint
- commonly sprained ligaments are in the ankles, knees, wrists, and thumbs
- can take as long as four to six weeks to heal
More About Strains
- usually caused by repetitive twisting or pulling of a muscle or tendon, but can also be caused by a sudden movement
- may not begin to hurt until hours later
- pain may be accompanied by muscle spasms and weakness
- common sites for a strain include the lower back and the hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh
- can take between a week to several weeks to heal
Treatment Mild sprains and strains can be treated using the R.I.C.E. acronym.
R stands for “rest.” Take a break to give the affected area a chance to heal.
I stands for “ice.” Apply ice packs to minimize swelling and pain.
C stands for “compression.” Use a simple elastic bandage to reduce swelling.
E stands for “elevation.” Elevate the injured area to drain fluid away from tissue and reduce swelling and pain.
The Mayo Clinic recommends seeing a doctor if you can’t walk more than four steps without significant pain, can’t move the affected joint, or have numbness in any part of the injured area. In some cases, a severe sprain or strain may require surgery. However, most will only require a doctor or physical therapist to establish and monitor a rehabilitation program.
Prevention Sometimes sprains and strains are out of our control. However, a few simple measures can significantly decrease your risk of getting one:
Stretch, stretch, stretch. Make sure your muscles are warm, flexible, and loose before you jump into any activity. Start each session with a gentle warm-up, and end each session with a cool down.
Do conditioning. In the weeks before your activity begins, gradually strengthen your muscles through strengthening and conditioning. Don’t dive into an activity cold after not playing for a while.
Wear the right gear. Always wear the appropriate protective equipment. Be sure your shoes support and protect your feet and ankles to prevent ankle sprains.
Play smart. Avoid running or walking on uneven surfaces. Be on the lookout for icy spots, holes, and steps that could trip you up.
Listen to your body. If you are hurting or struggling to continue a movement, stop. It’s almost always a bad idea to play through the pain.