Sprains, Strains and Pains, Oh My!

Sprains and strains are . . . a pain. You’ve probably experienced the stabbing pain and limited mobility as a result of a pulled muscle or sprained ankle. Sprains and strains are the result of the ligament or muscle being overly stretched or torn due to physical activity such as sports, exercising or working. Luckily, these minor injuries typically resolve themselves within a few days. However, if severe enough, surgery can be required to correct the damage and reconnect the tissue. Read on to learn about the symptoms, treatment and prevention of these irritating injuries.
Soccer player suffering a sprain or strain.

Symptoms

Sprains and strains actually refer to two different types of injuries. A sprain occurs when a ligament, the fibrous connective tissue that connects bones and holds together joints, is injured. Joints, such as your ankles, knees and wrists, are most susceptible to sprains.

A strain refers to a muscle or tendon injury. Tendons are the fibrous tissue that connects the muscle and bone. A strain is also known as a pulled or torn muscle. A muscle tear is when the muscle fibers actually rip (ouch!) due to an overzealous physical activity or from being stretched too quickly. Strains most commonly affect your foot, leg or back, but can also occur in your hand and elbow.

Typically, you’ll know the moment you overstretch, pull or tear a ligament or muscle because of the ensuing sharp pain. Below are some additional symptoms of sprains and strains.

Sprain:

  • You might hear or feel a ‘pop’ when the injury occurs.
  • Pain, bruising, swelling or redness at the site of the injury.
  • The joint feels stiff and unstable.

Strain:

  • Acute or sharp pain.
  • Muscle spasms or painful cramping.

Treatment

Most sprains and strains are treatable in the comfort of your own home. To treat minor sprains and strains at home, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends the RICE method:

(https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/sprains-strains-and-other-soft-tissue-injuries/)

  • Rest – Take a break from the activity that caused the injury. Your doctor may recommend that you use crutches to avoid putting weight on your leg.
  • Ice – Use cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
  • Compression – To prevent additional swelling and blood loss, wear an elastic compression bandage.
  • Elevation – To reduce swelling, elevate the injury higher than your heart while resting.

You can also take an over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory medication, such as naproxen or ibuprofen to help reduce pain and the amount of swelling. If pain persists after several days or you’re having mobility issues, it’s important to see a physician to prevent permanent damage.

Prevention

To prevent painful sprains, strains and tears always thoroughly warm-up and stretch before any physical activity and afterwards. Whether you’re playing on a recreational racquetball league or helping your team win the state title, weekend warriors and all-star athletes all run the risk of injury.

In fact, it’s best practice to stretch every day whether you’re heading out for a run or to work. A daily exercise regimen can also help ward off injury.

If you’re dealing with pain from a strain or sprain, schedule an appointment with the best doctors in the St. Louis metro east. We offer same day appointments and accept most major insurance. Contact us to schedule your appointment!