| The Difference Between Sprains and Strains
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The Difference Between Sprains and Strains

The Difference Between Sprains and Strains

Many people throw around terms for injuries such as sprain and strain.  However, many people do not know the difference between the two.  While they both involve injury of the body, they do have different medical meanings with implications for prognosis.  Understanding the difference between sprains and strains is important for patients who are athletes, or who maintain active schedules.  Sprains and strains are both common and are felt by almost every person at some point in their life.  The big question is, what do sprains and strains have in common, how are they different, and why are they so often confused?

Sprains and strains both include injury and pain to a part of the body.  This pain is typically caused by a part of the body being overstretched.  In addition, sprains and strains are most likely to occur when a person is pushing their body, whether that be as a competitive athlete or someone who just enjoys working out.  Where sprains and strains differ is what part of the body is affected.  A sprain is an overstretched, torn or twisted ligament.  Whereas a strain is an overstretched, torn, or twisted muscle or tendon.  Ligaments tend to be located near joints such as the wrists, ankles, thumbs, and knees.  Commonly strained muscles and tendons tend to be located around the legs, knees, feet, and back.

Sprains typically happen suddenly.  They cause pain, swelling, bruising, a limited range of motion, and a popping sensation at the time of the sprain.  Strains may occur suddenly but can also develop over time.  Strains manifest as pain, swelling, bruising, muscle spasms and weakness, and limited range of motion.  Sprains are caused by running on an uneven surface, sudden pivots, falling, or injuries from contact sports such as football.  Strains are most likely to occur when lifting a heavy object, jumping, or slipping and falling.  They can also result from sports that require repetitive motion, such as tennis.

The treatment for both sprains and strains is similar.  In both rest and ice are absolutely necessary.  Continuing to use the injured body part will only perpetuate the injury.  Compression and elevation can also greatly help in reducing swelling and pain.  If you notice increasing pain over time, chronic weakness, or difficulty moving, it is time to visit a doctor for a more thorough examination.  Sprains and strains are best prevented by stretching before activity and warming up before fully exerting yourself.  It also helps to wear the correct footwear, particularly when running to ensure you are working out on an even surface.

Sprains and strains are thrown around as being interchangeable.  However, there is a difference between the two.  Sprains are caused when ligaments are overstretched, and strains are caused when muscles and tendons are overstretched.  While almost everyone will experience a strain or sprain at some point in their lives, there are ways to reduce the frequency.  This includes stretching out, warming up, having good posture, and wearing the appropriate workout clothing.  Fortunately, neither strains nor sprains are life-threatening conditions and can usually be treated with ice and rest.

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