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Strain or Sprain: What’s the difference?

Strain-or-Sprain

Summer is right around the corner. More and more people are getting out and being active. After a year of being stuck at home, everyone seems more eager than ever to get moving. All of this sudden increased movement can lead to injuries. When you sustain an injury, how do you know if it is a sprain or a strain?

It is hard to know the difference when symptoms are so similar between injuries. Strains and sprains both occur when there is damage to the soft tissues in the body, such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments. A sprain happens around a joint when the body part moves out of its normal range of motion, which leads to the tearing or stretching of a ligament. This type of action occurs when there is an overextension or stress to the area of a joint. A strain is an injury that affects the muscles and tendons, causing them to tear, twist, or stretch. It can be caused by a sudden movement that overstretches or contracts the muscle forcefully.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there is an actual distinction between the two injuries. Most sprains and strains consist of pain, swelling, and bruising but other factors that can differentiate the two.

Sprain Symptoms:

  • Unable to put weight on the injury
  • Limited movement around the joint without pain
  • A "popping" sensation at the time of injury

Strain Symptoms:

  • Muscle spasms or cramping
  • Muscle weakness and tenderness
  • Limited flexibility and movement

Once you know what type of injury you have, there are different methods to treating your sprain or strain. For both sprains and strains, the R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) method is often a suitable way to treat these types of injuries. Rest to avoid additional pain or swelling but not avoid all physical activity. Icing the area will help with the swelling. Do this for 15-20 minutes daily every two to three hours for the first few days. Compress the area to help stop the swelling and give your injury some stability. Try not to wrap the area too tightly to hinder circulation or cause numbness but make sure it isn't too loose. Elevate the injured area if possible, especially at night, to allow gravity to help reduce swelling. Using pain relief medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin can also help to reduce pain and swelling. Depending on the area and severity of the injury, assistive devices such as braces or crutches may help you stabilize the injury.

If the problem persists, the MCO team is here for you. At Mclean County Orthopedics, we are experts when it comes to treating injuries. Call us today at (309) 663-6461 or click to schedule an appointment with a specialist who can offer diagnoses and the best treatment plan for your situation! 

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