When you’ve got a sore and swollen ankle after falling the wrong way, you’re left wondering if you’ve got a strain or a sprain. Although these two words seem interchangeable, they are injuries that involve different parts of your body.
In the case of a strain, you’ve stretched/torn a muscle or tendon. Tendons are tissues that connect muscle to bone. For this reason, you often hear people “pull a muscle” or “strain a muscle.” Most commonly, hamstrings (during sports) and the lower back (lifting heavy objects) are common muscle strain sites.
In the case of a sprain, you’ve stretched/torn a ligament. Ligaments are fibrous tissues that connect bones to joints. Sprains occur when a joint is forced beyond its normal range of motion, which most commonly occurs when turning or rolling ankles and wrists.
What are the Signs?
Although signs and symptoms will vary depending on the severity of the injury, both strains and sprains share and differ in symptoms.
Common signs include:
- Limited ability to move the affected joint/muscle
- Muscle spasms and weakness
How are they treated?
For severe cases, see a doctor immediately. But for most mild cases, remembering RICE can help minimize the damage and help recovery:
- Rest – Limit any physical activity using the body part within the first 24-48 hours after the injury.
- Ice – Within the first 48 hours, ice the sprain or strain 30 minutes at a time every 3-4 hours. Consider using Reusable Cold Therapy Pads which delivers cold therapy at temperatures that comply with medically accepted protocols.
- Compression – Use compression to help reduce the swelling. These include bandages such as elastic wraps, special boots, casts, and splints. The wrap should be snug, but not entirely cut off circulation. So if your extremities (fingers and toes) become cold, blue or start to tingle, it’s time to re-wrap! For an all in one therapy system, we recommend the VitalWrap System with a universal 6” wrap, hold, cold and compression therapy.
- Elevate – Try to get your injury higher than your heart if possible. Use pillows under arms or legs to elevate while staying comfortable at night. Consider a body pillow that provides extra support and stability for all areas of the body, not just the head and neck.
No one is immune to sprains and strains, but here are some to help reduce your injury risk:
- Exercise to build muscle strength, including stretching to increase flexibility
- Always wear properly fitting shoes
- Nourish your muscles by eating a well-balanced diet
- Warm up before any sports activity, including practice, to loosen up
- Use or wear protective equipment appropriate for sports and other strenuous activity