Strains vs. Sprains
Sprains and strains are common orthopedic injuries. Often used interchangeably, these two terms to describe the overstretching or tearing of soft tissues in and around your joints.
What is a Strain?
A joint strain is the overstretching or tearing of muscles or tendons. Tendons are tissues that connect your muscles to your bones.
Common areas for strains include:
- Legs (quadriceps and hamstrings), calf muscle
What is a Sprain?
A joint sprain is the overstretching or tearing of ligaments. Ligaments are the bands of tissue that connect two bones together in a joint. The most common location for a sprain is the ankle joint.
The Difference between Strains & Sprains
Strains and sprains affect different parts of the body. A sprain is an injury to your ligament, whereas a strain involves tendons or muscles. Ligaments are fibrous, thick tissues that connect your bones to other bones in your body. Sprains to the ligament are when these tissues are stretched or torn.
Muscle strains are graded 1, 2, or 3 and are determined by the severity of the injury:
Grade 1 (mild strain): The muscle or tendon is overstretched, and there may or may not be small tears.
Grade 2 (moderate strain): The muscle or its tendon is overstretched with some of the fibers torn, but it is not a complete tear.
Grade 3 (severe strain): Most of the muscle fibers are torn, or it is a complete tear.
Some strains, such as Grade 1, may benefit from the RICE method (detailed below) while the more severe injuries benefit from immediate medical attention:
- Rest: Stay off the affected joint or try not to use it while it heals. This will give the joint time to heal.
- Ice: Ice helps reduce swelling and inflammation. Never apply ice directly to your skin. Instead, wrap a thin towel or piece of clothing around a bag of ice. Leave it on the affected area for 20 minutes, then remove the ice for 20 minutes. Repeat as much as you can for the first 24 to 48 hours.
- Compression: Compression will help reduce the swelling. Wrap the affected joint in a bandage or trainer’s tape. Do not wrap too tightly, however, or you can reduce the blood supply.
- Elevation: Try to keep the affected joint elevated above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling. If your knee or ankle is affected, that may mean you need to stay in bed or on the couch for up to two days after your injury. If you can’t keep it as high as your heart, parallel to the ground is also OK.
For the more severe sprains and strains, these require professional evaluation and may require definitive diagnosis using advanced medical imaging such as an MRI. Professional treatment of the more severe injuries could include short-term cast or brace to immobilize the injured area, physical therapy, surgery, or a combination of all three.
Speak with an Orthopedic Specialist Today
Make an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists today to start your healing journey. OrthoArizona has 21 offices throughout the Valley, each focused on quality care, compassion, and excellent customer service. Since 1994, OrthoArizona has been dedicated to compassionate care of the highest quality.