Sprains and strains
Strain is the term used when a muscle is damaged or torn, commonly called a pulled muscle.
Sprain is the term for tearing of a ligament or joint capsule.
When excessive force is applied to a joint, the ligaments that hold the joint together may tear or partially tear. The ankle, knee and fingers are the most frequent sites of sprained ligaments. Sprains are often much more painful and disabling than a strain as the joint cannot be used until the acute stage has passed. A very common example is that of the lateral ligament of the ankle.
Strains, on the other hand, occur when a muscle is weak or lacks the flexibility and endurance to perform the desired activity. The majority of strains take place at the junction of the muscle and tendon, although they occasionally occur in the belly of the muscle as well.
Muscle strains are graded into three categories. Symptoms range from mere tightness in the muscle to severe swelling and pain. A grade 3 muscle strain, or rupture, may require surgery, or could keep you out of action for up to 3 months. Sprains also fall into three categories with symptoms ranging from mild pain and swelling to instability of the joint and severe pain. Total rupture of the ligament is characteristic of a grade 3 sprain and the joint will be unstable.
Whether it's a sprain (ligament) or strain (muscle), you would use the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) protocol initially to manage pain and reduce swelling. However, the sooner you can see your physiotherapist, the sooner you will be on your way to recovery. We would undertake a proper assessment to determine the mechanism of your injury and what can be done to prevent future injury. We may employ certain modalities such as ultrasound to relieve pain and inflammation.
In the case of a sprained ankle, you may need to learn how to get around on crutches and observe certain weight bearing precautions, which we can teach you to do. We may also employ an array of techniques to aid in your recovery such as
- Manual therapy to reduce tightness in the muscle and tendon
- Stretching exercises to restore range of motion (in the case of a joint) and promote flexibility
- Strengthening exercises to improve muscle strength
- Taping to stabilize the joint and reduce swelling
Sprains and strains are quite common among athletes and other active people. They can be uncomfortable and disabling depending on the severity. Physical therapy is important in reducing pain and discomfort and getting you back to your prior level of function, and early treatment will go a long way to a speedy recovery.
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