A common question we field from patients with injuries is, “Is it a sprain? Or is it a strain?” While they both result in similar pain and symptoms, sprains and strains are actually different injuries that involve completely different parts of the body.
A sprain is an injury that affects the ligaments, which are a type of connective tissue that connects bones to other bones. When a sprain occurs, the ligaments are either stretched or torn and depending on the severity of the stretching and tearing, can be very painful. Sprains most commonly affect the ankles, in particular the lateral (outside) portion of the ankle, which can occur from a variety of activities.
Strains, on the other hand, affect the tendons, the fibrous connective tissue that connects muscles to bones, or the muscles themselves. Strains involve the stretching and/or tearing of these tendons or muscles.
Symptoms of Sprains and Strains
The hallmark symptoms associated with sprains and strains are similar
- Redness and/or bruising
- Swelling and inflammation at the site of the injury
- Stiffness in the affected area
Causes of Sprains and Strains
Sprains typically happen suddenly and can occur in a variety of ways. When a person falls or twists in a way that puts their body in an unusual position or is hit with an impact that does the same, sprains can occur. On the contrary, strains can occur over time as a result of prolonged, repetitive movements, or occur suddenly.
One of the most common causes of sprains and strains is participation in athletic activities.
Treatment of Sprains and Strains
Most sprains and strains can typically be resolved with the RICE method – rest, ice, compression and elevation. Depending on the severity of the injury, future treatment and recovery efforts may involve a combination of physical therapy and various exercise techniques.
Seek help from a sports medicine physician if you experience any of the following:
- Cannot put weight on the affected area without feeling significant pain
- Cannot move affected joint
- Have numbness around the injured area
- Have significant swelling and/or changes in skin color
With proper care, most sprains and strains will heal without long-term side effects.
Prevention of Sprains and Strains
While there is no true way to prevent all sprain and strain injuries, proper stretching and strengthening regimens can help keep your body strong and more resistant to many injuries, including sprains and strains.
The highly-trained physicians and surgeons at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center treat a wide variety of orthopaedic, spine and sports medicine conditions, including sprains and strains from the foot and ankle to hand and elbow.
About Dr. Olufade
Oluseun Olufade MD, is board certified in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Interventional Pain Medicine. He completed fellowship training in both Interventional Pain Medicine and Sports Medicine. During his fellowship training, he was a team physician for Philadelphia Union, a major league soccer (MLS) team, Widener University Football team and Interboro High School Football team.
Dr. Olufade employs a comprehensive approach in the treatment of sports related injuries and spinal disorders by integrating physical therapy, orthotic prescription and minimally invasive procedures. He specializes also in concussion, tendinopathies and platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections. He performs procedures such as fluoroscopic-guided spine injections and ultrasound guided peripheral joint injections. Dr. Olufade individualizes his plan with a focus on functional restoration.
Dr. Olufade has held many leadership roles including Chief Resident, Vice-President of Resident Physician Council of AAPM&R, President of his medical school class and Editor of the PM&R Newsletter. He has authored multiple book chapters and presented at national conferences.