A sprain occurs when a ligament is stretched or torn. A ligament is a type of strong connective tissue that connects one bone to another stabilizing a joint. Typically sprains occur in a traumatic event such as twisting the knee or rolling the ankle. Sprains are classified in to Mild (grade 1), moderate (grade 2), and severe (grade 3), depending on the amount of damage present.
While the intensity varies, pain, bruising, swelling, and inflammation are common to all three categories of sprains. Treatment for mild sprains includes rest, ice, elevation , compression and sometimes physical therapy exercises. Moderate sprains often require a period of bracing. The most severe sprains may require surgery to repair torn ligaments.
A strain is an injury to a muscle or its associated tendon. Tendons are the structures that connect the muscle to the bone. Common strains include hamstring, quadriceps, and calf muscles.
Similar to sprains, strains are classified in severity as well as in their location within the muscle-tendon unit. Symptoms of a strain include pain, spasm, weakness, swelling, and cramping.
The recommended treatment for a strain is similar to that for a sprain: rest, ice, compression and elevation. This should be followed by simple exercises to relieve pain and restore mobility. Immobility and surgery are sometimes required for severe strains.
When dealing with and injury thought to be a sprain or strain, it is important to rule out other associated injuries such as fractures to the bones. It is also important to have a professional evaluation to ensure proper healing of the structures involved. If not appropriately addressed, these injuries can become sources of chronic pain and dysfunction.