The words sprain and strain are similar, but they're really two different things.
Causes and risk factors of sprains and strains may include:
While these types of injuries are common in athletes, they can happen when any of us overuses or over stresses our joints and muscles.
Sprained ligaments and strained muscles become inflamed as your body responds to the injury. This can cause spasms.
Regular exercise can reduce your risk of sprains and strains, as is warming up the body before you exercise. The research on stretching before exercise is not conclusive, but many health experts recommend it.
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Sprains and strains can happen almost anywhere in your body, including your lower back.
Both can be quite painful.
Sprains can happen when a joint twists in an unusual position, or bends too far. For example, an ankle sprain occurs because your ankle has twisted and the ligaments attached around that joint over-stretch.
Symptoms of a sprain include:
If your joint appears out of place or your symptoms do not go away within a few days, you should see a doctor.
Symptoms of a strain may include:
A mild muscle strain may result in some pain and weakness.
Severe muscle strains involve much (or even complete) tearing. People often hear the muscle "pop" when the injury happens. This may result in extreme pain and the inability to use the affected muscle.
A severe muscle strain injury is an emergency. You should see a doctor right away.
To diagnose a sprain or strain, your doctor will examine the injury and ask questions about how it happened.
He or she will also want to know if you've had the same injury before and any medications you are taking.
Tests you may need to confirm a sprain or strain diagnosis:
A common treatment for sprains and strains is ibuprofen— a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID).
Some people are sensitive to NSAIDs. Some can't take them at all because of other medical conditions.
Always tell your doctor about any other conditions you have or medications you take before starting treatment.
During the healing process for a sprain (muscle tear), your doctor will probably advise you to:
If your sprain is in your knee or ankle, you may need to use crutches for a short time.
For severe sprains or muscle tears, you may need:
Treatment options for strains vary depending on the severity of the injury.
Doctors can treat mild strains much like they treat sprains:
Severe strains may require surgery if the muscle is too damaged to heal properly on its own.
Your doctor may also refer you to a physical therapist to slowly increase the strength in that muscle to avoid further injury.
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