Sprains and Strains 

What are Sprains and Strains? 
Strains and sprains are the most common type of injuries that result from physical activity.  A sprain is the stretching or tearing for a ligament, fibrous tissue connecting one bone to another in a joint.  An injury to a muscle or a tendon, fibrous cords that attach muscle to bone, is known as a strain. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, sprains most often are the result of falling on an outstretched arm, sliding into a baseball base, landing on the side of their foot, or twisting a knee with the foot planted.  A strain is caused by twisting or pulling a muscle or tendon.  The back and hamstrings are common sites for strains.

Symptoms and Treatment
Pain is the most common symptom of both sprains and strains.  The intensity of pain will vary depending on the severity of the injury.  Other symptoms include swelling, bruising and the inability to move the injured joint.  Treatment for sprains and strains includes efforts to reduce pain and swelling and restoring function to the injured area (rehabilitation).

Initial treatment should occur as soon as possible. Experts recommend rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) for care of sprains and strains during the first 24-48 hours.  Following these steps should decrease swelling and ease your discomfort.

  • Rest:  Avoid activities that cause pain or discomfort and swelling.
  • Ice:  Icing an injury will prevent further swelling and ease spasms.
  • Compression:  To help combat swelling, compress the injured area with an elastic bandage.
  • Elevation:  Elevating the injured body part also will help reduce swelling.  Be sure to elevate when sleeping.

You may also want to take an over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin or others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol or others) to manage pain. 

Individuals with a mild strain or sprain should see a gradual improvement in two to four days.  If swelling, pain or joint instability continues, you may have a more severe injury that requires additional treatment and you should see a physician. 

A strain or sprain can happen to anyone but here are some tips to help reduce your risk of injury:

  • Avoid exercising or playing sports when tired or in pain.
  • Maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet to keep muscles strong.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Practice safety measures to prevent falls.  For example, keep stairways, walkways, yards, and driveways free of clutter; anchor rugs; and salt or sandy icy sidewalks and driveways in the winter.
  • Wear shoes that fit properly.
  • Replace athletic shoes as soon as the tread wears out or the heel wears down on one side.
  • Do stretching exercises daily.
  • Be in proper physical condition to play a sport.
  • Warm up and stretch before participating in any sport or exercise.
  • Wear protective equipment when playing.
  • Run on even surfaces.

If you suffer from a sprain or strain, visit your doctor. Call 800-681-2733 for a free physician referral today.