Sprains and Strains
Is it a bird, a plane, a strain or a sprain?
Often the terms sprain and strain get used interchangeably, but these terms actually describe completely different types of injuries.
Although in some ways quite similar, there are key differences between these injuries for example:
The type of tissue/structure that is damaged;
- Ligaments join bone to bone, whereas tendons join muscle to bone and transfer force to lever the joint.
- A sprain relates to ligament damage. A strain relates to tendon or muscle damage.
Sprains and strains can also be called tears;
- A sprain can range in severity from slight stretching of the ligament with a few fibres broken, through to full ligament rupture. A strain can range from a couple of fibres torn, to a full muscle or tendon rupture.
A complete tear/rupture of a ligament or muscle is more likely to require surgery to re-attach the loose ends of tissue together. Less severe injuries will usually have 3 main requirements. These include; a period of rest, protected/limited movement of the injured area, and a progressive rehabilitation program to restore full range of motion and strength.
In both strains and sprains, it is important to identify which muscle or ligament has been compromised in order to correctly manage the injury.
A key difference between the two types of injuries is that;
- while muscles are contractile (meaning they are able to contract and pull joints/cause movement),
- ligaments are non-contractile (can’t move joints on their own).
Because of this, different types of activity may aggravate injuries and slow down recovery if reintroduced at the wrong time. Similarly, different types of therapeutic exercises may be needed to optimally rehabilitate the muscle or ligament back to full capacity.
Most sprains and strains are treatable by a Physiotherapist. However, more severe cases may require a boot, other immobilisation tool, or surgical management. Even if surgery is required, a Physio will be able to work alongside your Doctors to optimise your healing and ensure your recovery is as fast and safe as possible.