Sprains are the most common sports-related injury. But did you know sprains and strains also comprise 40% of work-related injuries? This type of injury can affect anyone, from the dedicated athlete to the average individual.
Because sprains and strains are so common, it’s vital to understand them and know how to treat them for a full recovery. If you ignore a sprain or strain, it can lead to further damage and a much longer recovery time. So, in this article, we take a closer look at the differences between sprain and strains—and what you can do about them.
The Difference Between Strains and Sprains
Your skeleton is supported by muscles, tendons, and ligaments that hold everything in place and help you move. When you tear or overstretch the soft tissue around your skeleton, it’s called a sprain or a strain. Sprains and strains sound like the same thing but fundamentally differ in their definition.
What is a Sprain?
Ligaments are the bands of tissue that connect one bone to another bone in a joint. When you tear or overstretch this band of tissue, it is called a sprain.
Typical sprain symptoms include bruising, swelling, limited movement (range of motion), and pain.
What is a Strain?
Tendons are the bands of soft tissue that connect muscles to bones. When you tear or overstretch a tendon or muscle, it is called a strain.
In addition to bruising, swelling, pain, and limited movement, you might also notice muscle weakness or spasms after a strain injury.
How to Treat Sprains and Strains
The severity of your sprain or strain can vary and will determine your treatment options and recovery time. A mild sprain or strain is where there is slight damage or over stretching of the soft tissue—these usually resolve on their own with a little TLC.
Prolonged swelling causes the soft tissue around the joint to stiffen, which slows down healing and increases the risk of further injury. One of the best ways to combat it is “RICE.”
- Rest: Avoid moving or putting pressure on the painful joint. However, performing gentle movement that doesn’t cause pain or discomfort is fine.
- Ice: Reduce inflammation by applying ice compresses several times a day for 15-20 minutes at a time. Always ensure you place a towel between the ice compress and your skin.
- Compress: Some pressure, like a bandage or compression sock (in the case of ankles), can help reduce swelling.
- Elevation: Raising the injured joint above the height of your heart helps alleviate pain and bring down swelling.
More serious sprains and strains, which include partial or complete tears, often take longer to heal or require medical intervention. If you’re experiencing unbearable pain or still sore after a few weeks, x-rays and imaging scans are recommended.
One of the best ways to speed up recovery is to have a chiropractor examine and mobilise the affected joint soon after the injury. Gentle but targeted movement exercises keep the joint aligned and the healthy tissue flexible while the strain or sprain heals.
Your chiropractor will also perform manual therapy (specific massage) to reduce swelling, promote healing, and relieve pain in the area. As you heal, you’ll learn exercises that strengthen the joint to minimise the risk of a recurring sprain or strain in the future.
Don’t let a sprain or strain keep you from enjoying your sports, work, or daily activities. Here at Bradford House Chiropractic Clinic, we pride ourselves in supporting joint health for an active and pain-free lifestyle—contact us today!