Sprains and strains
Sprains and strains
Sprains and strains are common injuries that share similar signs and symptoms, but involve different parts of your body.
A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments — the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect one bone to another in your joints. The most common location for a sprain is in your ankle.
A strain is a stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon. A tendon is a fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones. Strains often occur in the lower back and in the hamstring muscle in the back of your thigh.
Signs and symptoms will vary, depending on the severity of the injury.
When to see a doctor
A sprained ankle is the stretching or tearing of ankle ligaments, which support the joint by connecting bones to each other. ...
A chronic strain results from prolonged, repetitive movement of a muscle. This may occur on the job or during sports, such as:
Factors contributing to sprains and strains include:
Preparing for your appointment
While you may initially consult your family physician, he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in sports medicine or orthopedic surgery.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
During the physical exam, your doctor will check for swelling and points of tenderness in your affected limb. The location and intensity of your pain can help determine the extent and nature of the damage. Your doctor might also move your joints and limbs into a variety of positions, to help pinpoint which ligament, tendon or muscle has been injured.
X-rays can help rule out a fracture or other bone injury as the source of the problem. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) also may be used to help diagnose the extent of the injury.
Treatments and drugs
Treating sprains and strains depends on the joint involved and the severity of the injury.
Lifestyle and home remedies
For immediate self-care of a sprain or strain, try the R.I.C.E. approach — rest, ice, compression, elevation. In most cases beyond a minor strain or sprain, you'll want your doctor and physical therapist to help you with this process:
Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) also can be helpful.
After the first two days, gently begin to use the injured area. You should see a gradual, progressive improvement in the joint's ability to support your weight or your ability to move without pain. Mild and moderate sprains usually heal in three to six weeks. A physical therapist can help you to maximize stability and strength of the injured joint or limb.
Regular stretching and strengthening exercises for your sport, fitness or work activity, as part of an overall physical conditioning program, can help to minimize your risk of sprains and strains. Try to be in shape to play your sport; don't play your sport to get in shape. If you have a physically demanding occupation, regular conditioning can help prevent injuries.
You can protect your joints in the long term by working to strengthen and condition the muscles around the joint that has been injured. The best brace you can give yourself is your own "muscle brace." Ask your doctor about appropriate conditioning and stability exercises. Also, use footwear that offers support and protection.
Last Updated: 2011-10-25
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