A sprain is an injury to a ligament, the tough, fibrous tissue that connects bones to other bone. Ligament injuries involve a stretching or a tearing of this tissue. A strain is an injury to either a muscle or a tendon, the tissue that connects muscles to bones. Depending on the severity of the injury, a strain may be a simple overstretch of the muscle or tendon, or it can result in a partial or complete tear.
A sprain typically occurs when people fall and land on an outstretched arm, slide into base, land on the side of their foot, or twist a knee with the foot planted firmly on the ground. This results in an overstretch or tear of the ligament(s) supporting that joint.Do you have a question or topic you would like to ask one of our physicians?
Signs and Symptoms of Sprains
The usual signs and symptoms of a muscle sprain include pain, swelling, bruising, and the loss of functional ability (the ability to move and use the joint). Sometimes people feel a pop or tear when the injury happens. However, these signs and symptoms can vary in intensity, depending on the severity of the sprain.
A strain is caused by twisting or pulling a muscle or tendon. Strains can be acute or chronic. An acute strain is caused by trauma or an injury such as a blow to the body; it can also be caused by improperly lifting heavy objects or over-stressing the muscles. Chronic strains are usually the result of overuse – prolonged, repetitive movement of the muscles and tendons.
Signs and Symptoms of Strains
Typically, people with a strain experience pain, muscle spasm and muscle weakness. They can also have localized swelling, cramping, or inflammation and, with a more severe strain, some loss of muscle function. Patients typically have pain in the injured area and general weakness of the muscle when they attempt to move it. Severe strains that partially or completely tear the muscle or tendon are often very painful and disabling.
When To See a Doctor for a Sprain or Strain
- You have severe pain and cannot put any weight on the injured joint.
- The area over the injured joint or next to it is very tender when you touch it.
- The injured area looks crooked or has lumps and bumps that you do not see on the uninjured joint.
- You cannot move the injured joint.
- You cannot walk more than four steps without significant pain.
- Your limb buckles or gives way when you try to use the joint.
- You have numbness in any part of the injured area.
- You see redness or red streaks spreading out from the injury.
- You injure an area that has been injured several times before.
- You have pain, swelling, or redness over a bony part of your foot.