What is the difference between a sprain and a strain?
You may have heard the words “sprain” or “strain” used in the context of injuries. However, many people are surprised to hear that these terms have different meanings and are not the same.
Ligaments are tissues that connect a bone to another bone. A mild sprain is when a ligament is stretched. In the most severe sprains, the ligament is torn. Surgery may be necessary to repair a torn ligament.
Tendons are tissues that connect a bone to a muscle. A mild strain is when a muscle and/or tendon is stretched. In the most severe strains, there is a tear. Surgery may be necessary to repair a tear.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends initial treatment of mild sprains and strains with the RICE protocol:
Rest: This one is pretty self-explanatory – allow the injured area to rest.
Ice: Remember not to put ice directly on skin. There should always be a barrier (for example, a towel or cloth) between the ice and the skin. Ice should be applied for only 20 minutes at a time.
Compression: The idea is that the injured area is supported. You may use an elastic compression bandage or wrap to do this. Remember not to wrap the area too tight – this may decrease blood flow to the area causing additional injury.
Elevation: Elevate the injured area above the heart if possible to reduce any swelling.
Consult with a health care professional if the pain is not going away or becoming worse.
If you or the person in your care have been injured, consult with a health care professional as additional treatment such as physical therapy, bracing, or surgery may be necessary.
For more information on sprains and strains including tips for preventing injury, visit The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ website.
Please note that this article is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice.