Is It a Sprain or a Strain?

May 5, 2021 10:16 am Published by

If you’ve ever twisted your ankle or tripped and fallen on your wrist, you know that you don’t have to break a bone to experience a lot of pain. But is that injury a sprain or strain? And what’s the difference between a sprain and a strain anyway?

Ligaments vs. Muscles and Tendons

Both sprains and strains are injuries to soft tissues, but they are not the same.

  • A sprain is an injury to a ligament, the tissue that connects bones at joints. Ankle and wrist sprains are some of the most common. Symptoms usually include swelling, pain and bruising. Sprains are often caused by a sudden injury, like a fall.
  • A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon, the tissue that connects muscle to the bone. Not warming up before working out or exerting too much force on your body improperly can increase the risk for strains. Back and hamstring strains are the most common. Symptoms include pain, spasms and trouble moving the muscle.

Many sprains or strains can be diagnosed via telemedicine, without leaving your house.

Treatment for Sprains and Strains

If you’re experiencing only mild pain from your sprain or strain, taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen can help. Applying the RICE protocol is usually the standard treatment.

  • Rest. Use the affected body part as little as possible.
  • Ice. Place an ice pack wrapped in a towel on the site of pain for 20 minutes, four to eight times a day, with at least 40 minutes in between sessions.
  • Compress. Wrap the joint with an elastic bandage, being careful not to wrap too tightly.
  • Elevate. Prop your leg or arm up so that it is above or level with your heart to further reduce swelling.

It’s always a good idea to see a healthcare provider for injuries, especially if the pain has not gone away or has worsened after a day or two.

The time it takes for the sprain or strain to heal will depend on the person and the severity of the injury. A severe sprain may need physical therapy to regain your full strength and range of motion.

Could It Be a Fracture?

Many people think that if you break a bone, you’ll definitely know—you won’t be able to walk, or the swelling will never go down. But if you have a stress fracture, it could just feel like a sprain or strain at first.

Stress fractures are usually caused by overuse, repetitive activity or a sudden change in activity. In older people, a stress fracture can also be a sign of osteoporosis.

If left untreated, stress fractures can turn into a full break of the bone. That’s why getting treatment early is crucial. Only a medical provider can X-ray your injured limb and determine your best course of treatment.

If your pain is severe or hasn’t gone away after several days, get assessed quickly at our Express Care clinic, or make an appointment with a Magnolia Regional Health Center primary care provider.



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This post was written by Magnolia Regional Health Center

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