Sprains and strains are some of the most common athletic and workplace injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Sprains and strains can impact anyone of any age and are usually caused by one trauma or repetitive trauma to a particular area.
Jack Martin, PT, clinical director of Bacharach Physical Therapy Marmora
“While the physical properties of the involved tissues are different, sprains and strains are both stress injuries,” said Jack Martin, PT, clinical director of Bacharach’s Marmora satellite campus. “A sprain is an injury to a ligament, which connects bone to bone and a strain is an injury to a muscle or a tendon, which connect muscles to bones.”
Sprains and strains are both categorized in terms of the grade or the severity of the injury:
- Grade 1
A grade 1 sprain or strain is the least traumatic injury. There will be stress to the soft tissue and maybe some minimal fiber disruption. There is typically mild pain with or without swelling. This grade of injury is usually treated at home with R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression and elevation).
- Grade 2
A grade 2 strain or sprain is the next step up. There is soft tissue disruption resulting in pain and swelling. Sometimes there is bruising present because smaller blood vessels are torn. The tissue is overstretched causing the tissue to be torn but not completely.
- Grade 3
A grade 3 sprain or strain is the most severe or traumatic injury. There is a partial or complete tear of a ligament, tendon or muscle. This level of injury will result in pain, swelling and bruising. Grade 2 and 3 injuries should be seen by a qualified health care provider.
“The first step to rehabbing a strain or sprain is to put the injury in a protected environment to help it heal properly. You want to reduce swelling and protect or limit motion depending on the structure that is injured,” said Jack. “Usually within 2-4 weeks we can start to stress the injured tissue. The patient will progress to specific exercises including protected and guarded joint mobility, strengthening and proprioception activities.
While any joint is susceptible to a strain or sprain, the most common areas are the ankles, knees, shoulders and spine.
“I think the thing to remember is, if there is pain, swelling, or bruising get the injury checked out,” said Jack. “We know that the biggest predisposing factor to injury of a specific joint is previous injury to that joint. It is easy for a “simple” sprain or strain to progress onto a recurring injury if not properly treated.”