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Understanding the difference between the commonly-used injury terms    Whether you twist your ankle on the field or hurt your back in the weight...

Understanding the difference between the commonly-used injury terms

   Whether you twist your ankle on the field or hurt your back in the weight room, you probably don’t care whether you call it a sprain or a strain. It just hurts. But there is a difference between the two. The difference is not the level of severity, as many people think. 


   A sprain is an injury involving the stretching or tearing of a ligament — the tissue that connects bone to bone. Ligaments stabilize and support the body’s joints. Symptoms of a sprain include pain, inflammation, a popping or tearing sensation, and, in some cases, the inability to move a limb. Sprains occur when a joint is forced beyond its normal range of motion, such as when you turn or roll your ankle.


   Strains are injuries that involve the stretching or tearing of a muscle and/or tendon. Tendons attach muscles to bones. Acute strains are caused by a direct blow to the body, overstretching, or excessive muscle contraction. This type of injury is often seen in runners who strain their hamstrings. Symptoms for an acute strain may include pain, muscle spasm, loss of strength, and limited range of motion.

   Strains can also be chronic injuries that gradually build up from overuse or repetitive stress. For example, a tennis player may strain a shoulder as the result of constant stress from repeated serves.


   As you can see, strains and sprains are very different injuries, but both are classified by degree of severity. Sprains and strains range from mild injuries, involving some stretching or minor tearing, to severe injuries, where the ligament or muscle is completely torn, resulting in joint instability.


   Rest, ice, compression and elevation will help minimize the damage. In all but mild cases, it’s important for a physician to evaluate the injury and establish a treatment and rehabilitation plan. 

Hunter Greene, M.D., is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Summit Orthopedic Specialists in Carmichael.

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