Many believe the terms “sprain” and “strain” can be used interchangeably. While some characteristics are similar, the two terms actually refer to very different things! Both definitely are injuries, but to completely different tissues. Let’s take a look at the two situations.
Ligaments are strong bands of fibrous tissue in your body that connect bones to other bones. They are responsible for essentially holding your joints together. When ligaments are over stretched or tear, it is called a sprain. This often occurs when a joint is forced beyond its anatomical limit. When an athlete or anyone experiences a sprain injury, they may feel a pop and subsequently may have a difficult time moving the affected joint. The most common sprains occur in the ankle, knee, wrist, and hand.
Conversely, tendons are cord-like tissues that connect muscles to bones. Injuries to tendons or muscles are known as strains. This typically happens when the muscle or tendon experiences excessive force or tension. When you strain a muscle it can be associated with pain, tightness, inflammation, and lasting spasms. Think about when you bend over the wrong way and “pull” a lower back muscle. The pain and tightness you feel is possibly a strain (considering there are no other pre-existing conditions). Muscles that our Physical Therapists and Chiropractors most commonly see strained are muscles of the lower back, neck, hamstrings, calves, and shoulders.
Both can be graded from 1-3 as seen below:
Grade 1 (Mild)
- Mild stretching and tearing of minimal fibers
Grade 2 (Moderate)
- Partial tearing of the fibers, but not complete rupture
Grade 3 (Severe)
- Complete tear of the muscle, tendon, or ligament
Many healthcare providers will also take into consideration the amount of swelling, weight bearing capability, and joint stability when grading. Both injuries can also be treated with RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) in conjunction with chiropractic or physical therapy treatments. A solid exercise regimen should have you back to your sport or work in no time! Stay Well.