Sprains and strains are common joint injuries and people often get them confused.
A sprain is an injury involving the stretching or tearing of a ligament (tissue that connects bone to bone) or a joint capsule which help support the joint. Symptoms may include pain, inflammation, and in some cases, the inability to move a limb (arm, leg, foot). Sprains occur when a joint is forced beyond its normal range of motion, such as turning or rolling your ankle.
Strains are injuries that involve the stretching or tearing of muscles or tendons (tendons attach muscle to bone) An acute (instant or recent) strain might happen when the muscle is stretched and then suddenly contracts, as with jumping or running. Symptoms for an acute muscle strain may include pain, muscle spasm, loss of strength, and limited range of motion. Chronic (long-lasting) strains are injuries that gradually build up from overuse or repetitive stress, resulting in tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon).
Sprains and strains are graded according to severity. A Grade I (mild) sprain or strain involves some stretching or minor tearing of a ligament or muscle. A Grade II (moderate) sprain or strain is a ligament or muscle that is partially torn but still intact. A Grade III (severe) sprain or strain means that the ligament or muscle is completely torn, resulting in joint instability.
As a chiropractor, I usually only see mild sprains or strains in my office, as anything more severe is referred to an Orthopedic specialist. Applying the acronym RICE immediately is very important to ensure the joint heals properly. REST – get off the joint! Don’t apply any pressure to the joint, especially if it is a weight-bearing joint like a knee or ankle. ICE – get ice on the injured joint ASAP. Icing 10-20 minutes out of each waking hour is a good rule-of-thumb. COMPRESS – wrap the joint in an ace bandage to support. ELEVATE – raise joint even or above the heart level to decrease swelling.
RICE-ing and getting professional help quickly will ensure proper healing of the joint so you can enjoy an active lifestyle in the years to come.