By James Clayton Bsc (Hons) MCSP
Strains and Sprains- what are they and what should you do?
With the recent change in the weather, the lifting of Covid restrictions and the longer days, more and more people are keen to get outside and participate in sport as a way to keep fit (mentally or physically), or in order to socialise. And sport/exercise is a fantastic way to do this! However, with an increase in sport participation, we are seeing an increase in clients coming through our doors at this time of year with sprains and strains. This blog will set out what the difference is between a sprain and a strain, and what you can do to help yourself, and what we can do to help you too.
Strain vs Sprain
The terms strain and sprain sound very similar, and that’s because they can occur in quite similar ways, it’s just that they affect different body parts.
A strain is where the tissue affected is either a muscle or a tendon (what connects muscle to bone). A strain often occurs as a result of the muscle fibres being put under more pressure than it can cope with, especially during eccentric actions. They can also happen when overstretching a joint- often at speed. It is important to recognise that not all strains are the same, and the simplest way to characterise them is by grading the injury on severity;
Grade 1- the least severe strain. This is where only a few fibres are affected, but these can still be painful and debilitating.
Grade 2- More muscle fibres are affected and can be ‘torn’ in places. There is a loss of strength and there is normally swelling and/or bruising
Grade 3- This is a complete rupture of the muscle or tendon with a loss of any muscle function.
These grades, as you might expect, tend to correlate with healing time and so time to return to your activity or sport.
A sprain is an injury to a ligament (this connects bone to bone). Ligaments are found at joints, and their role, alongside proprioception, is to support a joint whilst allowing for a certain degree of movement in order to let the joint function. However, when the joint is forced past its normal range of movement, the ligaments over stretch/tear/rupture, and this is a sprain. One of the most common types of sprains is ‘rolling an ankle’, this is where the ankle falls under the body and the pressure and the weight from the body forces the ankle too far in and so the ligaments on the outside become sprained. Similar to muscle strains, we grade these on a scale of 1 to 3 depending on severity.
Grade 1- damage to a few fibres, often no swelling or significant bruising
Grade 2- damage to more than 10% of the fibres, tears may be seen with imaging. And bruising and swelling is commonly witnessed at this level.
Grade 3- A complete rupture of the ligament and loss of function of the ligament.
Again, same as with strains, the more severe the injury, the longer it will take to heal and get back to physical activity.
What can you do?
If you think you have strained a muscle, or sprained a ligament. The first thing we’d suggest is stop whatever you’re doing. Quite often, if you continue with the activity that caused the tissue to damage, it will make it worse. Then, when you’re home there are various sayings you can use to look after the injury in its earliest stage, but the easiest and most important to remember I feel is ‘RICE’(Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Depending on the severity of the injury, professional medical advice could also be appropriate in these early stages.
So, what can our team at Bradley Physio do to help you?
On your first visit to one of our clinics you will be fully assessed where your Physiotherapist or Sport Rehabilitator will question you about your injury and will then give you a physical examination. Following this, we will then share with you what we found, including your diagnosis, and come up with a plan together on how to get you back to what you want to do. To achieve this we can provide you with regular hands on treatment to speed up the healing process, alongside an individualised exercise programme for you to complete between sessions that best suits you and your injury. We will also advise you on how to avoid a similar injury in the future so we can keep you doing what you enjoy the most!
However, sometimes, with complex injuries, we may feel you need further imaging to confirm a diagnosis or to find the extent of the damage. This is where we can refer you for a private scan, whether it be an ultrasound scan, x ray or MRI as appropriate. And in the rare scenario where we think you will not benefit from Physiotherapy at the stage you come to the clinic, we can refer you to one of the North West’s leading consultants for their specialist opinion and support.