Sprains and Strains: What’s the Difference?

Sprains and Strains: What’s the Difference?

Proliance Orthopedic Associates

Being outdoors is a favorite pastime in the Pacific Northwest. Increased activity means a greater chance of injury, and sprains and strains are among the most common. Taking a few precautions and knowing the difference between a sprain and strain can help prevent injury.

What is the difference between a sprain and a strain?
“A sprain means you’ve stretched or torn a ligament, which is a band of tissue connecting bones together,” said Dr. Michael Allison, a sports medicine specialist at Valley Orthopedic Associates (VOA) in Renton.

A strain occurs when you pull or tear a muscle or tendon, a thick cord of tissue that attaches muscle to bone.

“Sprains are usually caused by some sort of trauma like falling while rollerblading or sliding into a base. The impact knocks a joint out of place which could overstretch or tear the connecting ligaments,” Dr. Allison said.

“Strains can be acute or chronic. An acute strain is usually triggered by overstressing muscles by doing things like lifting heavy objects incorrectly. A chronic strain is caused by overuse and repetitive motion, like pitching a baseball,” Dr. Allison said.

Although sprains and strains can occur in the upper and lower parts of the body, strains are most commonly seen in the ankle. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 25,000 individuals sprain an ankle in the U.S. each day.

“Ankle sprains usually happen when the foot turns inward while a person is walking or running, or lands on the ankle after jumping,” said Dr. Robert Veith of VOA’s Foot and Ankle Center.

Treating Sprains and Strains
VOA physicians recommend RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) to immediately treat sprains and strains. A physician should be consulted as soon as possible to evaluate the extent of the injury and develop a treatment and rehabilitation plan for optimal recovery.

Safety Tips to Help Prevent Injury
Whatever activity draws people outdoors, VOA recommends the following safety tips for outdoor activity at any age:

  • Always wear appropriate safety gear. If you bike or rollerblade, wear a helmet.
  • Wear the appropriate shoes for each sport and replace shoes with worn tread.
  • Warm-up before any exercise, even a walk in the park or a softball game.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. You can break this into shorter periods of 10 or 15 minutes throughout the day.
  • Follow the 10 percent rule. Never increase your activity – whether it’s walking, running or inline skating – by more than 10 percent a week.
  • Try not to do the exact same routine two days in a row. For example, alternate your activities by walking one day and playing tennis another. Different activities will work different muscles and keeps exercise more interesting.
  • Stop all activity if you experience severe pain or swelling. Seek medical treatment for any persistent discomfort.
  • Fuel your muscles with proper nutrition by eating a well-balanced diet.