A sprain is an injury in a joint, caused by the ligament being stretched beyond its own capacity. A muscular tear caused in the same manner is referred to as a strain. In cases where either ligament or muscle tissue is torn, immobilization and surgical repair may be necessary.
Sprains involve the tissues that connect bones together (ligaments). Strains involve a different group of tissues, muscles and the tendons that connect muscles to bones. Mild sprains and strains can heal with rest and home care. Significant sprains and strains may require rehabilitation, surgery, or both.
Sprains and strains can happen due to a fall, direct contact with another person during sports, overuse, overstretching, or repetitive motions. Ankle and knee strains are the most common, and they swell very rapidly. Generally, the greater the pain and swelling, the more severe the strain is.
A sprain causes pain, bruising, and swelling. You may hear or feel a pop when the injury occurs. A severe sprain causes intense pain at the time of injury, followed by difficulty moving a joint. A strain causes muscle pain, weakness, cramping, spasm, or swelling. Moderate to severe sprains can result in muscle tearing.
Generally, a sprain or strain can be diagnosed just be a physical examination with your physician. On occasion, an x-ray may be performed to check if there is a more severe injury such as a fracture.
Immediately following your injury, you should elevate your joint and apply cold packs to prevent swelling. Your doctor will formulate a treatment plan based on the severity and degree of your injury. Mild sprains and strains may benefit from physical or occupational therapy following injury. More significant sprains and strains may require surgery or immobilization with a brace or splint for healing.