Understanding the Difference Between Sprains and Strains – and How PT Can Help

January 20th, 2019

Imagine – you’re walking down the street, paying little attention to where you’re walking, when suddenly your ankle rolls off the curb and you feel a pain in your ankle.

How many of you have been in that situation before? While there will surely be immediate pain, it is sometimes difficult to determine if visiting your doctor is necessary. Some injuries can be treated with the R.I.C.E method (rest, ice, compression, elevation), but others may need a little medical help.

In order to determine whether you sustained a sprain or strain – and whether or not it needs medical attention – is by consulting with your physical therapist.

Sprains vs. strains – defined:

That’s one of the most common questions people ask when they hurt a part of their body: is it a sprain or strain? While they may seem similar, the distinctions are actually easier to make than you may think. In order to know the differences between a sprain and a strain, you must first know 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 that it happens as an immediate response to an injury, or 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 damaged. This can affect your ankles, knees, elbows, or wrists. With a sprain, the joint is so violently twisted that the tissues are stretched or torn. The pain may be mild, subsiding in a few minutes or hours, or it can be more severe, requiring physical therapy or even surgery.

Relieving sprains and strains with physical therapy:

Physical therapists are movement experts who can help you find relief for your sprain or strain, in addition to decreasing your risk of sustaining another in the future. Physical therapy has been supported as an effective treatment for pain relief by numerous medical journals, and in many cases, it has even been known to eliminate the need for potentially harmful pain-management drugs or invasive surgical correction.

When treating a sprain or strain with physical therapy, 3 steps are typically followed.

  1. Your physical therapist will focus on pain relief. This is done with passive physical therapy methods, including manual therapy, ice and heat therapies, light stretches, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation.
  2. Once your pain is managed, your physical therapist will focus on promoting the healing process of your injury. This will include strengthening and range of motion exercises, in order to help regain optimal function of the affected area.
  3. After your injury is healed, your physical therapist will focus on preventing injury from occurring in the affected area again in the future. This will be done with targeted strengthening exercises, in order to build muscle around the affected area and reduce your risk of injuring it again in the future.

If you have sustained a sprain or strain (or you think you might have), contact our office today to schedule your consultation. We’ll help you get started on the best treatment plan for you!