“Sprain” or “Strain” – What exactly is the difference?

physiotherapy-ankle-foot-painThe terms “strain” and “sprain” are used when describing soft tissue or joint injuries, but what exactly is the correct term.

A “strain” is an injury or damage to the muscle or the tendon (a tendon being the connective tissue that connects the muscle belly to the bone). A strain occurs when the load placed on the muscle or tendon is too excessive or too intense and causes a tear. This damage to the muscle fibres or tendons results in inflammation, causing bleeding and swelling to the area which can be very painful. Examples are a strained hamstring, a calf strain, or a strained bicep tendon.
A “sprain” is damage to the ligament (a ligament being the connective tissue that connects bone to bone) and occurs when there is excessive load or force put through the joint causing the ligament to tear. Ligaments help to support the joint, so when damaged, there can be disruption or change in the joint’s stability. Examples are a sprained ankle, or a sprained wrist.

Strains and sprains both present with pain, swelling, bruising, reduced movement and poor function. The principle of RICER (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation and Referral) is applied. Physiotherapy and correct management of acute soft tissue injuries help assist in the repair of the damaged tissue and will assist in the best outcome in movement, function and returning to sport or exercise.

Management of sprains and strains usually involves massage, mobilisations, dry needling, taping, prescriptive and functional exercise including stretching, strengthening, proprioception retraining and plyometrics.

The recovery period for strains is usually 3-12 weeks and sprains is usually 6-12 weeks, both of which are determined by the severity of the injury.

In Touch Physio can assist you with the management and recovery of your sprain or strain, and it is best to seek advice in the initial acute stage of your injury to enhance your recovery!

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