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Sprains & Strains: What Is the Difference?

You’re physically active and love to play sports. At your most recent practice, you worked yourself really hard. Now your knee is swollen and painful. Do you have a sprain or a strain?

The best way to answer this question is to consider how your injury occurred. Then, take the necessary steps to treat your pain and get feeling back to normal as quickly as possible.

What Is a Sprain?

A sprain is an injury to a ligament. This strong band of connective tissue, which connects bone to bone, can stretch or tear during physical activity. You most likely have a sprain if you fell awkwardly or twisted a joint. The areas of your body most vulnerable to sprains include your ankles, knees, and wrists, since your feet, legs, and hands tend to bear your weight when you fall.

What Is a Strain?

A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon, which is the connective tissue that connects muscles to bones. This type of injury often results from quick starts, overextending your muscles, or excessive gripping. The injury is usually not sudden but felt after prolonged physical activity.

Symptoms of Sprains & Strains

Sprains and strains are both examples of soft-tissue injuries. Since they’re so similar, they share many of the same symptoms, which include:

  • Swelling, stiffness, and bruising
  • Pain that worsens with movement
  • Joint or muscle discomfort
  • Inability to move the affected joint (sign of a severe sprain or strain)
  • Feeling a pop or tear when the injury occurs (sign of a severe sprain or strain)
  • Warmth in the joint (sign of infection)

How to Diagnose a Sprain or Strain

Other than assessing the way your injury occurred, the only way to distinguish between a sprain and strain (and assess the severity of your injury) is with tenderness and range-of-motion tests. X-rays show bone fractures and breaks, but they don’t show torn or stretched tendons or ligaments.

Treatment for Sprains & Strains

When you first sustain your injury, follow the RICE principle:

  • Rest the injured joint for at least 24 to 48 hours. You may need crutches to keep your weight off the injury until it heals.
  • Ice the injury to reduce swelling and pain. Apply ice for 10 to 15 minutes four times per day for two days.
  • Compress the injury with an ace bandage. Wrap the area loosely so it doesn’t cut off circulation.
  • Elevate the joint for the first 24 hours, even while sleeping, to reduce swelling. Use a sling or prop the joint up on a pillow.

You can also take over-the-counter painkillers to make you more comfortable until the sprain or strain heals.

Mild injuries can be often treated at home with painkillers and the RICE principle, though physical therapy may speed up the healing process. Moderate sprains and strains may require a period of bracing or splinting. For the most severe injuries, where tendons or ligaments tear completely, surgery may be necessary to repair torn tissues.

Need Sprain or Strain Treatment in Montgomery County?

If you hear a popping sound when your injury occurs, are unable to use the joint at all, or experience severe pain, don’t delay treatment or you might develop chronic pain or long-term joint problems. Instead, come to Fast Track Urgent Care in Silver Spring or Kensington for high-quality sprain or strain treatment in Montgomery County. Let our knowledgeable team diagnose your condition and treat your soft-tissue injury properly for a quick and complete recovery.

Visit us right away if you have an emergency, no appointment needed! Or, to learn more about us, contact us online or call Fast Track Urgent Care today at 800-417-1164.