Sprains & Strains

Most of us have had a sprain or strain at some time. They occur when during unusual physical movement like stretching too far, changing direction abruptly, trying to slow down or stop quickly, landing awkwardly, slipping on ice, lifting something heavy or just making a misstep on an uneven surface. Chronic strains can also result from overuse, prolonged repetitive movements.

Is it a sprain or a strain?

A sprain happens when you stretch or tear ligaments, which are the bands of tissue that connect one bone to another. The most common sprains are ankle, wrist and knee injuries. The usual signs of a sprain are swelling, pain, bruising and sometimes inability to move the joint.

A strain happens when you stretch or tear muscles. People often call strains pulled muscles. The most common strains are hamstring (back of the thigh) and back injuries. Signs of a strain include pain, limited motion, muscle spasms and weakness.

When should you see a doctor?

Many sprains and strains are minor injuries that will heal with appropriate home care. Moderate and severe sprains and strains, however, usually need medical attention to ensure proper healing. Seek medical care if:

  • The injured area is intensely painful
  • You heard a popping sound during the injury
  • You can’t put any weight on or move the injured area
  • The injured area is misshapen (other than swelling)
  • You have numbness in the injured area
  • The pain, swelling and stiffness don’t improve in three days

Treatment depends on the area involved and the severity of the injury, and may include rest, immobilization, or in severe cases, surgical repair. If you are in doubt about the severity of an injury or how to care for it, always get medical advice.