Joint Sprains & Strains – What’s the Difference?
Sprains and strains are similar but distinct injuries that can occur around a joint. Both injuries may result in pain, swelling, bruising, and reduced joint function. A sprain involves damage to a ligament, which is a strong band of fibrous tissue that connects two bones at the point where they come together in a joint. This type of injury can occur if a joint is twisted beyond its normal range of motion in a fall or awkward landing from a jump, which can overstretch – and possibly tear – a ligament, resulting in an ankle sprain.
A strain involves damage to a muscle or tendon, which is a flexible collagen cord that attaches a muscle to a bone. This type of injury, which can be acute or chronic, occurs when a muscle or tendon is excessively pulled or twisted. An acute strain can result from trauma, such as a direct blow to a joint, or overload, such as improperly lifting a heavy object. A chronic strain can result from prolonged, repetitive movement.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Minor joint sprains and strains can often be treated at home with “PRICE” therapy, which involves protection, rest, icing, compression, and elevation. But, it’s essential to keep in mind that sprains and strains are sometimes accompanied by more serious injuries, such as a ruptured ligament or fracture. Symptoms that warrant a prompt evaluation by a physician include:
- An inability to move or bear weight on the joint
- A feeling that the joint is about to buckle or give way
- Severe pain directly over the bones in the joint
- Numbness in or around the joint
Preventing Joint Sprains & Strains
The best way to protect a joint from sprains and strains is to regularly perform stretching and strengthening exercises as part of an overall physical conditioning program. Instead of playing a sport to get in shape, it’s important to get in shape before playing a sport. In fact, the most effective joint “brace” is formed by strong, supportive muscles.
If you’d like to learn more about prevention strategies or treatment options for joint sprains and strains, an experienced orthopedic specialist is an excellent resource. Peter D. Vizzi, MD, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who practices in Lafayette, Louisiana, diagnosing and treating a comprehensive range of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. Contact Dr. Vizzi’s office to schedule an appointment today.