How do I know if it’s a sprain or a strain?
Many Australians play sport, whether they play it professionally or just for enjoyment they all have the risk of injury.
The most common sports injuries are strains and sprains. These two terms are often interchangeably used to describe damage to the soft tissues of your body. How can you tell a sprain from a strain?
A sprain is the overstretching, tearing, or twisting of ligaments. Ligaments are tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones together in a joint. The most commonly sprained areas include the wrists, ankles, thumbs, and knees.
Symptoms include pain, tenderness, swelling, bruising, limited movement around the joint, inability to put weight on the affected area, skin discoloration, stiffness and a “popping” sensation at the time of the injury.
In the past the standard initial treatment was the R.I.C.E. method (Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevation). However research has determined that immobilizing an injured limb may not be helpful after all.
Whilst ice may be useful for reducing acute pain and may help to manage swelling, immobilizing and compression may inhibit healing due to restricting blood flow to the area. In order to heal, our bodies have to break down damaged cells and rebuild using raw materials. And to do this it needs blood flow. When we restrict blood flow we are slowing down the bodies process of healing. Instead of restricting blood flow in the name of comfort we need to encourage the right blood flow to improve healing. To do this M.E.T.H is the new R.I.C.E
Movement– After a few days try to get some range of motion back to the injured area without too much weight-bearing. Listen to your body.
Elevation– When you are resting, elevate the injury to reduce excessive swelling.
Traction– This is a method where a trained therapist gently pulls on the joint. There are various techniques but it should always be performed by a trained professional.
Heat– encourages blood flow rather than restricting it. Apply for no longer than 30minutes at a time and it doesn’t need to be very hot. Just like with ice, don’t overdo it.
Most sprains will get better after a few days of rest, but there are complications that should be ruled out such as cartilage injury, fractures, joint dislocation or ruptured muscles.
If not properly diagnosed, treated and managed, a sprain can impede your ability to do your normal routine activities.
It is therefore important to see a health professional especially if you are experiencing the following symptoms:
- pain and swelling getting worse over time, in spite of home treatments
- fever or chills
- difficulty moving the joint
- numbness or tingling in the affected area
- a deformity or instability of the injured area
A strain is the traumatic overstretching, tearing, or twisting of tendons or muscles. Tendons are dense, fibrous cords of tissue that connects muscles to bones. The most commonly strained areas include the legs, knees, feet, and back.
Symptoms are almost the same as sprains – pain, tenderness, swelling, bruising, limited movement around the joint, inability to put weight on the affected area, skin discoloration, and stiffness, with the addition of muscle spasm, muscle weakness and a “knotted-up” feeling.
Strains require the same initial treatment as sprains. The swelling and local bleeding into the muscle can be soothed by ice packs. The strained muscles must be maintained in a stretched position.
An elastic bandage can be gently wrapped around the injured area to decrease swelling and provide support. If possible, the affected area should be propped up above the chest to help reduce swelling.
A serious muscle strain is when muscle tissue is ripped from the tendon due to excessive stretching. In worse cases, the entire muscle may rupture completely.
If the pain and swelling don’t subside after three days in spite of treatment, it’s time to visit a health professional such as a physiotherapist to evaluate and assess the severity of your injury.
Strains can be caused by poor body mechanics when lifting something heavy. They can also be caused by doing the same repetitive motions over and over. The symptoms of both sprains and strains may be similar, but there are several telling points that can differentiate the two.
You usually hear or feel a pop in the joint when a sprain occurs, and you will find it’s difficult to move the affected joint. A strain, on the other hand, may cause muscle spasms or cramping around the injured area and the muscles will be sore.
Physiotherapy can help get your joint back to its full range of movement; improve the strength of surrounding muscles; and may prevent further injuries through education and strengthening exercises.
At Southport Central Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic, we offer a variety of physiotherapy services for the prevention, management, and treatment of sports injuries including strains and sprains, as well as other body and wellness related conditions.
Our physiotherapy techniques in conjunction with evidence and results-based care allows us to manage your treatment and recovery journey.
If you suspect you’re suffering from a sprain or a strain, book an appointment with us online now:
You can also call:
(07) 5571 2222
+61 439 406 788
Southport Central Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic
Southport Central Tower 2
Shop 2002, 5 Lawson Street,
Southport QLD 4215