It’s a scenario that’s all too common to many of us: walking down the street, not paying attention, when suddenly – your ankle slips off the curb. You feel immediate pain but can’t tell if you should seek medical attention or not. Some injuries can go away on their own with a little RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) treatment, but others need professional intervention. The best way to determine if your injury is a strain or sprain – and whether or not it warrants medical attention – is to consult with a physical therapist.
What’s the difference between a strain and a sprain?
That’s one of the most common questions people ask when they hurt a part of their body: is it a strain or sprain? These two conditions, while similar, have a few distinct differences. Before understanding the differences between a strain and a sprain, it is important to understand the differences between a tendon and a ligament.
Tendons are strong, fibrous tissues that connect bone to muscle. Ligaments are similar connective tissues to tendons, although instead of connecting bone to muscle, they connect bone to bone.
A strain occurs when the tendons attaching your muscle to bone are stretched too far or torn. A strain can be acute, meaning it happens as an immediate response to an injury, or it can be chronic, meaning that it has developed over time due to performing the same repetitive motions over and over.
A sprain occurs when the ligaments connecting your joints are stretched too far or torn. This can affect your ankles, knees, elbows, or wrists. The pain may be mild, subsiding in a few minutes or hours, or it can be more severe, requiring physical therapy or even surgery. Much like a strain, a sprain can also be acute or chronic.
Seeking help with physical therapy:
Physical therapists are movement experts. They can help you recover from your strain or sprain, and can help you prevent further injury in the future. Physical therapy is a proven and effective way to relieve pain, without the risks of harmful drugs or surgical intervention.
At the beginning of your treatment plan, your physical therapist will focus primarily on pain relief. This may include any combination of targeted exercises and stretches, manual therapy, ice and heat therapies, ultrasound, or electrical nerve stimulation.
Once your pain has been managed, the focus will shift to healing the injured body part. Your physical therapist will help you strengthen the affected body part and regain any range of motion that was lost.
When the healing process is complete, the final part of your treatment plan will focus on future injury prevention. It is the unfortunate truth that once you have sustained a strain or sprain, your likelihood of sustaining another one increases. However, your physical therapist will help you significantly lower your risk by providing strengthening exercises that will build muscle around the affected area.
If you’ve recently sustained a strain or sprain, or you suspect you may have, contact us today to schedule an appointment. We’ll get you started on the path toward relief and recovery!