Sprains vs strains - do you know the difference?

Wednesday, February 8 2017

What’s the difference between a sprain and strain you ask?

A sprain is typically a stretch and/or tear of a ligament; which is the fibrous band of connective tissue that joins the end of one bone to another.

A strain is usually an injury to muscle and/or tendon (musculo-tendinous junction) where the muscle starts to become tendon and where the tendons connect muscle to bone. Strains tend to occur due to a quick tear, twist or pull of the muscle, as well as via an overstretching or over contraction.

What causes these sprains and strains? Typically, a sprain is caused by a fall or twist such as an ankle, knee or wrist sprain. A strain can occur suddenly or develop over time. A sudden strain can happen by lifting a heavy box, playing a sport and over-exerting your body, slipping on ice, etc.

Some strains develop over time due to prolonged repetitive movements of the muscle and tendon with inadequate breaks. Everyone is at risk for sprains and strains. There are some factors that can put you at greater risk such as being in poor physical condition, which leaves your muscles weak and less flexible and more likely to sustain an injury.

Other risk factors include inadequate warm-up before exercise or activity that loosen up muscles and joint range of motion. Fatigue is another cause of sprains or strains. When muscles are tired they may not provide the right support for your joints. Poor exercise technique can also cause sprains or strains.

ankle cuff

Common symptoms of sprains include pain, swelling, bruising, and limited ability to move the affected joint. Symptoms of a strain are fairly similar to a sprain in that there is also pain, swelling, and limited ability to move affected muscle, along with muscle spasms/tightness.

Strains and sprains are classified by degree of severity ranging from first to third degree. The differences in degrees reflect the degree of overstretching or damaging force applied to the tendon, muscle or ligament.

First degree sprain – mild stretching of ligaments. Mild pain with mild dysfunction of the tissue or body part and minimal to no swelling.

Second degree sprain – stretching and partial tearing of fibers in the ligament but the joint is still held together and is stable. There may be pain, swelling, bruising and moderate dysfunction of the tissue or body part.

Third degree sprain – complete tear or rupture of the ligament with an unstable joint, this is characterized by severe pain, bruising and loss of function of the body part affected. Third degree sprains may require surgery and immobilization.

The grading for muscle strains is also three degrees.

taped ankle

First degree strains occur due to mild straining of muscle fibers where a few fibers have been stretched or torn – micro-tears. Muscles will be painful and tender but mobility should be normal.

Second degree strains tend to have a greater number of fibers stretched or torn. Pain is usually more severe along with tenderness and mild swelling and bruising.

Third degree strains occur when muscles have been split or torn away from the tendon leading to loss of function of the affected muscle. Like third degree sprains; a third degree strain may require surgery to repair.

It is important to properly assess sprains and strains and be treated and managed with care from a chiropractor, physiotherapist or medical doctor. along with proper home-care instructions of rest, ice, compression, and elevation or R.I.C.E.

We are all at risk of sprain or strain. Help reduce your risk of injury by making sure you are limber and stretch before doing any strenuous activity, work or lifting. Making sure your body is conditioned properly with regular strengthening and conditioning exercises to build muscle strength, and warming up before any kind of activity can also help prevent strains and sprains.