Sprains and strains produce similar symptoms but affect different types of connective tissue. A sprained ankle is the most common among these injuries. A sprained wrist, sprained knee and sprained thumb are also frequently seen, especially among athletes. Certain accidents or occupations may also lead to a sprained foot or sprained neck.
Sprain vs. Strain
Saying you sprained something means that a ligament, the tissue that connects bones at the joints, was stretched or torn. Sprains occur when a joint is stressed or twisted in an unnatural way and are sometimes accompanied by a popping sensation.
Strains are also stretches or tears, but these affect the tendons connecting muscle tissue to bones or the muscles themselves. Pulling or twisting is the main culprit behind strains and can occur during contact sports or when lifting heavy objects. Acute strains occur suddenly; chronic strains develop as the result of repeated use of one body part.
Symptoms of strains and sprains are similar and include:
• Limited movement
• Muscle spasms
Your symptoms will vary in intensity depending on how bad the injury is. The severity of sprained joints is diagnosed on a graded scale:
• Grade I: Stretched or slightly torn ligament with minimal effect on the joint
• Grade II: More severe than Grade I, but the ligament is still intact
• Grade III: Complete tear or rupture of the ligament with intense pain
Minor sprains and strains can be treated at home using the RICE method. Rest the affected area for 24 to 48 hours. During that time, apply an ice pack twice per hour for ten minutes at a time. Wrap the injury in an elastic bandage or compression sleeve, and keep it elevated above the level of your heart. Together, these steps reduce pain and swelling while promoting natural healing.
If you can’t move or put weight on the affected area or the pain doesn’t go away in two to three days, head to your local urgent care center. You may need an X-ray to rule out the possibility of a broken bone or other serious underlying damage.