Sprains vs. Strains

The two most common injuries seen in athletics are strains and sprains.  Understanding the differences between these is important during the healing process.

A strain is a tear of the muscle fibers or tendon.  This can happen when someone overstretches the muscle during activity or an excessive muscle contraction.  Persons with a muscle strain may present signs and symptoms such as muscle weakness, sharp pain, swelling, inflammation, and spasm.  Immediate treatment for a muscle strain is rest and ice.  No activity or stretching for the athlete for about 3-4 days is crucial in order to prevent further damage to the muscle.

A sprain is a tear or rupture of a ligament.  Ligaments are located in joints and are primary stabilizers.  So when someone tears or ruptures a ligament, the joint is considered unstable.  Signs and symptoms of a joint sprain are pain, swelling, bruising, and the feeling of “instability”.  Each ligament serves a purpose, so treatments may vary depending on the severity and which ligament is affected.  Ice and compression should be utilized immediately to reduce the amount of swelling in the joint.  Taking advantage of gravity by keeping the compromised joint elevated above the heart will assist in decreasing swelling.  Once swelling has reduced, strengthening the musculature around the joint is necessary in order to protect and stabilize the joint.

The prevention of these injuries will save you time and pain.  In order to do that, regular exercise and strengthening will be beneficial.


Sprains v. Strains

Greg Heeter, MS, ATC, LAT