The Difference Between Sprains and Strains and How to Treat Them
A sprain is an injury to the ligament (the tissue connecting two or more bones at a joint). It is caused by stretching or tearing of the ligament. A strain, on the other hand, is an injury to the tendon (the fibrous cord of tissue connecting muscle to bone) or to the muscle itself caused by stretching or tearing.
A sprain happens when a joint is forced out of its normal position or when ligaments are pulled, stretched, or damaged. Symptoms of sprain are pain, swelling, bruising, tenderness, stiffness, and inability to use the joint. They happen most often in the ankle, however, sprains of the thumb, wrist and knee are also common. In motor vehicle crashes severe sprains of the neck are called whiplash injury.
Many physical actions can cause a sprain such as falling or landing on an arm, falling on the side of the foot and twisting the knee.
A strain happens when you twist or pull a muscle or tendon. A strain can happen very suddenly or it may develop over a period of days or weeks accompanied by symptoms of pain, muscle spasms, swelling, cramping and difficulty moving the muscle.
Sudden or acute strain is caused by injury as in a motor vehicle crash, lifting a heavy object improperly and over-stressing muscles. Chronic strain happens when you over-stress muscles and tendons in a repetitive action over a period of time.
Factors contributing to muscle and tendon strain are:
poor muscle strength
muscle imbalance such as between hamstring and knee extensor(1)
insufficient warmup time or stretching
poor athletic training/competing technique
When it comes to treating sprains and strains, therapies and treatments such as those provided by your chiropractor are proven to stabilize the sprain or strain and help you regain mobility naturally instead of using drugs or receiving surgery or injections or simply waiting for the injury to slowly heal on your own at home. Moreover, we find that patients who are already under our chiropractic care are less prone to injuries from minor accidents. Most patients with sprain or strain are typically able to return to normal function within a shorter period of time than covering it up or waiting it out to heal on its own.
The acronym B•R•A•C•E offers a basic outline for how we approach treating sprains and strains:
Bandage/brace: Compression wraps help prevent swelling causing the joint area to feel better.
Rest/rehabilitation: By immobilizing the area for as little time as clinically feasible, we can alleviate the pain and restore function more quickly.
Apply ice: Applying cold to a soft tissue injury helps the blood vessels to contract reducing swelling and pain and speeding the healing process. After three days to three weeks, alternating hot and cold may also be helpful.
Chiropractic adjustments including extremity adjustments: By treating the body as a whole unit and ensuring spinal and extremity (shoulder, elbow, knee, etc.) alignment, we help create an optimum environment for healing of the strain or sprain.
Elevation: Raising the injured area helps reduce swelling.
a muscle whose contraction extends or straightens a limb or other part of the body
Wyatt, Lawrence H. Handbook of Clinical Chiropractic Care. Jones and Bartlett, 2005.
Addeo, Fran. Chiropractic: the Miracle Within. Ingram Press, 2014.