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A woman with sprain in a forest

Muscle Sprains and Strains

A muscle strain is a painful injury to the tendon or muscle. The tendon is a fibrous tissue that attaches the muscle to the bone. A strain can be minor, where the muscle or tendon has been overstretched. Or the injury may be severe, involving a partial or complete tissue tear. Muscles strains commonly occur in the shoulder, hamstrings and calf muscles.

A sprain on the other hand happens when a ligament is injured, causing tearing to itself and the other local/surrounding tissue. Your joints are connected by bands of connective tissue called ligaments. The most common areas where sprains occur include the ankle, knee, wrist and thumb.

The main difference between a strain and a sprain is that a strain is an injury to the tissues which attach the muscle to the bone, and a sprain is an injury to the tissues connecting the bones together.

Symptoms of Strains and Sprains

  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Reduced motion
  • Stiffness
  • Muscle weakness

Degrees of a Sprain or Strain

The severity of a sprain or strain is categorised into three groups.

Grade 1: This is a mild injury where minimal fibres are torn with moderate levels of pain and swelling. However, the overall function of the area is mostly unaffected.

Grade 2: This injury is more severe. There are many torn fibres and the area is swollen and painful. There is some loss of function and strength.

Grade 3: This is the most severe type of sprain or strain. The tissue is completely torn and there is usually significant loss of function with severe pain and swelling (there are occasional exceptions).

Muscle Strain Treatment

Initially, muscle strain treatment includes five steps:

  1. Protection
  2. Rest
  3. Ice
  4. Compression
  5. Elevation

Further treatment will depend on your diagnosis and how severe the injury is. Muscle strain treatment may include medication initially to help reduce pain and inflammation. Physio treatment will likely include strategies such as taping or bracing to protect the injury allowing it to heal in the early stages. It may also include some specific exercises. Physical therapy for muscle strains helps to maintain strength, flexibility and promote healing. If the injury is severe where the tissue has completely torn, you may require surgery to repair the area and regain strength and function. This is rarely the case and most strains can be managed conservatively.

Sprained Ankle Treatment

An ankle sprain is one of the most common types of sprains. Usually, it is the ligaments on the outside of the ankle which are injured. Initially, a sprained ankle requires protection (ideally with a compressive stabilisation strapping), ice, compression and elevation to help reduce symptoms. Your physio may refer you for an X-ray to determine the severity of the injury if it doesn’t pass some quick tests that they are trained to perform.

Sprained ankle treatment may include:

  • Strengthening exercises
  • Balance exercises
  • Mobilisation and manual therapy
  • Taping or bracing

Preventing Sprains and Strains

Participating in certain sports can put you at a higher risk for sprains and strains. There are also certain parts of the body that are more susceptible to injury including the ankles, hands, knees and elbows. To prevent a sprain or strain from happening it is always a good idea to warm up before physical activity and keep up with regular stretching and strengthening exercises. Recent research confirms that maintaining good physical strength is the best way to prevent injuries.

For more information about treatment options for sprains and strains, contact the experienced and friendly and staff at Integrity Physio.

Director & Senior Physiotherapist at Integrity Physiotherapy, Leslie Trigg, has over 13 years of experience in clinical practice. He has graduated with a degree in Human Biology (Anatomy and Physiology) from Curtin University in 2001 and later completed a Masters of Physiotherapy in 2007. He has tremendous experience in musculoskeletal, orthopaedic, neurosurgical and sports physiotherapy. In his spare time, he enjoys swimming, listening to music and spending time with his family.