Strain vs Sprain? How To Recover Optimally

Acute sprains and strains may impede performance and delay return to a sport. Proper management, treatment, and prevention is essential to recovering effectively. An athlete must first understand the definition and recognize the differences between a "sprain" and a "strain." A sprain is defined as a violent overstretching of one or more ligaments in a joint. A sprain can result in pain, tenderness, swelling or bruising at the joint. A strain is defined as a stress or direct injury to the muscle or tendon. A strain may also cause pain when moving or stretching the injured muscle, but can also cause muscle spasms.

Grades of Strain:

1) Grade I - Mild Strain: slightly pulled muscle with no muscle or tendon tears and no loss of strength and low levels of pain
2) Grade II - Moderate Strain: partial tearing of the muscle or tendon at the bone attachment with reduced strength, moderate pain levels
3) Grade III - Severe Strain: complete rupture of muscle-tendon-bone attachment with separation, substantial loss in strength and high levels of pain

Grades of Sprain:

1) Grade I - Mild Sprain: minor tearing of some ligament, no loss of function
2) Grade II - Moderate Sprain: partial rupture of portion of ligament, moderate loss of function
3) Grade III - Severe Sprain: complete rupture of ligament or separation of ligament from bone, substantial loss of function


Proper RICE Treatment:

1) REST: Do not continue to use the affected muscle or ligament immediately after injury. Use crutches for the lower extremities (i.e. leg or ankle) and splints for the upper extremities (i.e. arm or hand)

2) ICE: Sudden cold may help constrict capillaries and blood vessels to slow or restrict internal bleeding. Place an ice pack between a towel or dry cloth. Apply ice every hour for 10 to 20 minutes at a time.

3) COMPRESS: Compression can help reduce swelling post-injury. Wrap the injured part firmly with an elasticized bandage, compression sleeve, or a cloth. Do NOT wrap the cloth too tightly as it may cut off blood circulation and lead to more swelling.

4) ELEVATE: Elevate the injured part about level of the heart to reduce swelling and pain. Place a soft object such as a pillow or piece of clothing to use as a prop below the body part.

Continued Recovery:

Continue to follow the above RICE method for two to three days post-injury. Daily stretching may help loosen the muscle. Key to prevention is to stretch the tight muscles and strengthen the weak muscles.

Watch the videos below on how to recover from a common ankle sprain or shoulder strain:



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