What Are the Symptoms of Sprains and Strains (Muscle Tears)?
Sprains and strains can happen almost anywhere in your body, including your lower back.
Both can cause a lot of pain.
Symptoms of a sprain
Sprains can happen when a joint twists in a weird position or bends too far. For example, an ankle sprain occurs because your ankle has twisted, and the ligaments attached around that joint stretch too much.
Symptoms of a sprain include:
- Swelling and tenderness of the joint.
If your joint looks out of place or your symptoms don't go away in a few days, you should see a doctor.
Strain (muscle tear) symptoms
Symptoms of a strain may include:
- Sudden muscle pain, often from a certain movement or injury.
- Muscle spasm.
- Muscle that's sore to the touch.
- Pain that may ease with rest.
- Muscle weakness.
A mild muscle strain may cause 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 not being able to use that muscle.
A severe muscle strain injury is an emergency. You should see a doctor right away.
How Do You Diagnose a Sprain or Strain?
To diagnose a sprain or strain, your doctor will do an exam and ask how it happened. During the exam, your doctor will touch the injured area, check for swelling, and test your range of motion.
Your doctor will also take a medical history to see if you've had the same injury before and what medicines you're taking.
You may need tests to confirm a sprain or strain diagnosis:
- Sprains — X-rays to make sure you don't have a fracture. You can't see ligaments on X-rays, but doctors may want to look at the joint itself.
- Strains — X-rays to rule out a fracture, even though you can't see soft tissue like muscles or tendons on an X-ray. Your doctor may order an MRI or ultrasound to determine the extent of the damage to your muscle.
Learn more about tests to diagnose sprains and strains
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