Sprains and Strains
Sprains and strains are common injuries that share similar signs and symptoms, but involve different parts of your body. Sprains and strains are among the most common injuries in professional sports, amateur athletics and the general public. You are more at risk for the injury if you have a history of sprains and strains, are overweight, and are in poor physical condition.
Sprains and strains are categorized according to severity:
- MILD – A muscle is stretched in a mild sprain, but there is no joint loosening.
- MODERATE – A moderate sprain partially tears the muscle, producing joint instability, and some swelling.
- SEVERE – A severe sprain produces excruciating pain at the moment of injury, as muscle tear completely, or separate from the bone. The complete rupture makes the joint nonfunctional.
You should seek medical attention if you can’t walk more than four steps without pain, can’t move the affected joint and you have numbness in any part of the injured area.
A sprain is an overstretch and/or tear of a ligament (fibrous band of connective tissue that joins bone to bone). Every joint in the body is stabilized and supported by a ligament or ligaments. They help control range of motion and enable us to complete simple tasks such as walking and running. The most common location for a sprain is in your ankle.
What is a Muscle Strain?
A muscle strain is a stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon. A tendon is a fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones. Strains often occur in the lower back and in the hamstring muscle in the back of your thigh.
What are the signs of a strain?
Signs include pain, muscle spasm, muscle weakness, swelling, inflammation, limited ability to move the affected muscle, and cramping. With a mild strain, the muscle/tendon is stretched or pulled, slightly. Some muscle function will be lost with a moderate strain, where the muscle/tendon is overstretched and slightly torn or damaged. In severe strains, the muscle and/or tendon is partially or completely ruptured, often disabling the person.
Achilles Tendon Strain
Achilles tendon strain. Pain along the back of your foot and above your heel, especially when stretching your ankle or standing on your toes. Most strains are mild. The seriousness of the strain will affect your walking. Suddenly increase your activity or warm up improperly can cause an Achilles tendon strain. Trying to go fast, jumping (hurdles), cutting (football) or twisting in the air are just some of the scenarios where you could develop Achilles tendon strain.
Back (or Lumbosacral) Strain
When the muscles that support the spine are twisted, pulled, or torn, the result is a back strain. Athletes who engage in a lot jumping (during basketball, volleyball, etc.) are at risk to this injury. Everyday activities can lead to back strain; picking up a heavy item and twisting at the same time as in loading groceries into the car, carrying laundry up stair and turning too quickly.
Hamstring Muscle Strain
A hamstring muscle strain is a tear or stretch of a major muscle in the back of the thigh. The likely cause is muscle strength imbalance between the hamstrings and the muscles in the front of the thigh, the quadriceps. You may be more likely to get a hamstring injury if you play soccer, basketball, football, tennis or a similar sport that involves sprinting with sudden stops and starts. Hamstring injury can occur in runners and in dancers as well. The injury can sideline a person briefly or for as long as six months. Hamstring injuries tend to recur.
Self-care measures such as rest, ice and over-the-counter pain medications are often helpful to relieve the pain and swelling associated with a hamstring injury. Physical therapy is required for moderate to severe injuries. Rarely, surgery may be needed to repair a torn muscle.
Muscle strain in the front thigh (quadriceps muscles in the front, and the adductor muscles on the inside.). The hamstring and quadriceps muscle groups are particularly at risk for muscle strains because they cross both the hip and knee joints. They are also used for high-speed activities, such as track and field events (running, hurdles and long jump), football, basketball, and soccer.
Stretches, tears, or incomplete ruptures of the large calf muscles (gastrocnemius), also called ‘Tennis leg’ happens when lunging or pushing off one leg to get to a wide ball or serve. This may also happen with daily activities, such as running to catch a bus or climbing stairs. It feels like being kicked in the leg from behind. The tennis leg sufferer feels a quick severe sharp pain, turns around to see who kicked them, only to discover that no one is there.
A biceps muscle strain is a painful injury, caused by an accident, improper use of a muscle, or overuse of a muscle. Frequently occur in racquet, throwing, and contact sports.
Your shoulders (deltoid muscles) are the most movable joints in your body. Overuse, repetitive motion or an unnatural twisting of the shoulder are causes of shoulder strain. Quite often they are due to swelling, which can make almost any movement in the cavity of the shoulder joint both difficult and uncomfortable.
Repetitive strain injuries are linked with work related usage of the hands. A tight grip or squeezing the hand overworks the hand muscles. Women are at high risk as ‘standard’ hand tools are often too large, too wide or too slippery. Sports such as gymnastics, tennis, rowing, golf-sports that require extensive gripping-have a high rate of hand injury.
Not generally considered a serious injury, there is pain and dysfunction of the neck. The causes are extended time in an awkward position (hunched over a steering wheel while driving, hunched forward to view a computer monitor, or cradling a phone in the crook of the neck). Sleeping in a position that strains the neck, such as with a pillow that is too thin or too firm. Carrying a heavy suitcase or other object on one side of the body. Neck strain can become chronic and quite disabling if not corrected. Treatment and corrective posture and preventative measures are often the best course of management.
A muscle cramp is a sudden and involuntary contraction of one or more of your muscles. If you’ve ever been awakened in the night or stopped in your tracks by a sudden charley horse, you know that muscle cramps can cause excruciating pain. Though generally harmless, muscle cramps can make it temporarily impossible to use the affected muscle.
Injury to the muscles such as moderate to severe strains can result in protective muscle guarding and cramping. Long periods of exercise or physical labor, particularly in hot weather, may lead to muscle cramps. Some medications and certain medical conditions also may cause muscle cramps. You can usually treat muscle cramps at home with self-care measures.