strains and sprains

The Difference Between Strains and Sprains

When clients come to us for physiotherapy treatment, they’ll use terms like sprains or strains to describe their injuries. These words are used interchangeably by many but they actually have different meanings. In this week’s blog, we’re going to look at the difference between these two types of common injuries and how we grade their severity.

What is a Sprain?

Within our bodies, ligaments are tough bands of tissue that connect two bones together in our joints. A sprain is a stretching or tearing of a ligament. Symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising and discomfort when we use the affected joint.

The good news is that most minor sprains will heal themselves with standard RICE therapy (rest, ice, compression and elevation). When a more serious sprain occurs, it may impact on the stability of the joint. If you’re unsure of the severity of a sprain, it’s recommended to work with a physiotherapist on the issue.

The Different Grades of Sprains

In physiotherapy, we assess sprains via a three-level grading system. Most people have likely suffered a Grade 1 Sprain at some stage in their lives, but let’s look at what happens in each grade.

  • Grade 1 Sprain – Considered a mild injury, a Grade 1 Sprain consists of slight stretching or a minor tear of some of the ligament fibers. It will result in little to no joint instability and will heal within one to two weeks with rest.
  • Grade 2 Sprain – A partial tearing of the ligament fibers. Individuals who suffer a Grade 2 Sprain will feel an abnormal loose feeling within the joint when it is manipulated in a certain way.
  • Grade 3 Sprain – Often a significant injury, a Grade 3 Sprain is a complete tear or rupture of the ligament fibers, resulting in significant instability or loose feeling in the affected joint.

Common Areas for Sprains

The most vulnerable areas of the body for sprains include the ankles, knees, shoulders and wrists.

What is a Strain?

Strains are injuries that occur to a muscle or tendon. They are often caused by overuse, impact or even stretching. Even a minor strain can be a painful injury, with an expected recovery time of three to six weeks. For more severe strains, recovery can take several months. Again, it’s advised to consult with a physiotherapist if you’re suffering from a muscle strain.

The Different Grades of Strains

  • Grade 1 Strain – Defined as a stretching or tearing of a small number of fibers. The affected area will feel sore, but unlikely to impact too much on mobility.
  • Grade 2 Strain – A more extensive tearing of the muscle/tendon fibers but continuity within the tissue still exists.
  • Grade 3 Strain – A relatively serious muscular injury in which a complete tear/rupture of the muscle or tendon fibers occurs, causing a complete loss of continuity. Some Grade 3 Strains will require surgical intervention.

Common Areas that Suffer Strains

Muscular strains are common in the lower back, hamstring and calf. Even a relatively minor strain can feel painful.

Get in Touch

Whether you’re suffering from an injury or hoping to improve your fitness overall, get in touch with us. Our team at VanCity Physio is ready to help you crush your goals, whatever they may be.