Even though sprains and strains are common injuries, it doesn’t mean that you should skip a medical exam when you are hurt. These conditions can be mild to severe and have similar symptoms based on the damage that occurred from an injury.
Sprains vs. Strains
What is the difference between a sprain and a strain? Even though the symptoms are similar, there are distinct differences between these two conditions:
- Sprains: When a ligament is stretched or torn, then it is known as a sprain. The ligaments are made of flexible tissue that helps to hold a joint together and connect cartilage and bones. Sprains can happen anywhere these ligaments are located in the body, including the knees, feet, wrists, and ankles.
- Strains: On the other hand, strains happen to tendons and/or muscles. The most common strains affect large muscles, such as the hip flexors, lower back, or hamstrings.
Sudden injuries are usually caused by a rapid movement, such as abruptly changing direction while running on a sports field or twisting an ankle due to a misstep on a curb. There are times when injuries can also occur due to repetitive action. Sometimes, a combination of an old injury and repetitive activities leads to chronic pain, especially when it comes to sports-related injuries.
Severity and Symptoms of Sprains and Strains
The severity of your symptoms varies depending on the extent of the injury, ranging from mild to severe:
- Mild: When the injury is mild, it usually involves a slight tear or excessive stretching. You can still use the joint and put weight on it. But it is common to have a bit of tenderness and swelling.
- Moderate: If the ligaments, muscles, or tendons tear but aren’t ruptured, it is considered a moderate injury. You will find it painful and tender, making it difficult to move the injured part of the body. It will feel unsteady when you put weight on the injury. It is common to experience both bruising and swelling with this type of injury.
- Severe: If a complete tear occurs, then you won’t be able to move the joint or hold weight on the injury. The joint will be discolored (bruised) and swollen.
These signs can be similar to the symptoms of other injuries, such as a dislocation or fracture. For example, sometimes the pain is so severe that it might suggest a break or fracture. As a result, it is best to talk to a doctor for an accurate diagnosis if you have questions about the severity of the injury.
When to See a Doctor
A mild injury can be treated at home with rest, ice, elevation, and compression. These first aid tips are particularly useful in the first day or two after injury and will help to reduce the pain and swelling. Some people try at-home treatments for the first 24 – 48 hours before determining whether medical services are needed.
Keep in mind that medical treatment is often helpful, regardless of the severity of the injury. Treating a sprain or strain can prevent ongoing joint problems, especially if you have a severe sprain or a history of injuries. Untreated injuries can often lead to long-term weakness and pain.
Immediate treatment is recommended if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Considerable swelling
- An audible popping sound when the injury occurred
- The injured joint can’t bear the weight
- Unable to move the injured area of the body
Our team of board-certified nurses and doctors will complete a thorough exam to determine the extent of the injury, including x-rays if needed. For more information about available medical services, contact us at iCare ER and Urgent Care: (214) 407-8668.