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Sprains and Strains
Sprains and strains come in many types and levels of severity. While sprains affect ligaments and joints, strains affect muscles and tendons. A sprain occurs when the fibrous tissue connecting bones at a joint is stretched or torn. Sprains commonly occur in the ankles, knees, wrists, thumbs, and elbows. Muscle strains—also called pulled muscles—occur when a muscle is overextended or torn. Tendon strains occur when tendons—the fibrous connective tissues which connect muscles to bones—are strained or torn just like muscles or ligaments. Muscle strains commonly occur in the lower back and hamstrings, while tendon strains commonly occur in the hands and joints such as the ankle.
Sprains occur when a ligament—connective tissue between bones or pieces of cartilage at a joint—is torn or overextended while the joint is severely stressed. Ankle sprains are the most common type and are often caused by running on an uneven surface or landing awkwardly from a jump. Knees, elbows, wrists, and thumbs can also be sprained, often as a result of sudden twisting or overextension during sports or exercise. Strains are caused by sudden extreme stretches of muscles or tendons such as when playing a contact sport or lifting a heavy object. Regular strengthening and stretching exercises can help reduce your risk of sprains and strains.
Symptoms of sprains and strains are often quite similar and depend both on the affected area and the severity of the injury sustained. Sprains may present symptoms such as pain, swelling, bruising, limited motion, and hearing or feeling a “pop” at the time of the injury. Strains may present symptoms such as pain, swelling, tenderness, redness, bruising, limited motion, muscle spasms, and muscle weakness. Other ailments which can be confused with sprains and strains include: contusions (which occur when soft tissues are bruised directly); tendonitis (inflammation tendons without stretching or tearing); and bursitis (inflammation of small sacs called bursae which serve as cushions between bones and tendons).
Treatment & Care
Not all sprains and strains can be treated without seeing a doctor in person. However, if you are suffering from a mild sprain or strain, try scheduling an online doctor visit for sprains and strains. A helpful acronym for treatment of sprains and strains is “RICE”: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Ice is applied to the injured area to minimize swelling. Compression may be accomplished using special casts, bandages, splints, or even a clean rag or towel in a pinch. Elevation reduces blood flow to the affected area. Anti-inflammatory medications may also be helpful. If you experience unbearable pain, immobility, or a sensation of numbness or tingling, then you should see an in-person doctor ASAP. A severe sprain or strain such as a torn ACL or Achilles tendon rupture requires in-person surgery.