A sprain is defined as a tear to a ligament. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones to one another (AKA a joint). Ligaments are important because they help keep joints stable and prevent excessive movements from occurring. When a ligament is torn or damaged, it may affect the stability of the joint.
A strain is defined as a tear to a muscle and/or tendon. The bulky part of the muscle is called the muscle belly, and it transitions into a cord like structure called a tendon, which connects muscle to bone. Unlike ligaments, muscles are able to contract creating movement of a body part.
Severity of sprains and strains are classified in the same was using a 3-point grading system.
- Minimal loss of structural integrity
- No abnormal motion
- Little to no swelling
- Minimal bruising
- Minimal loss of function
- Moderate loss of structural integrity but tissue is still intact
- Some abnormal motion (ligament injury)
- Increased swelling and bruising
- Moderate loss of strength, range of motion and function
- Complete tear and loss of structural integrity
- Significant abnormal motion (ligament injury)
- Significant swelling and bruising
- Significant loss of strength and function
- May require surgical repair
For the first 2-3 days following a sprain or stain, it is advised to follow the PRICE principle to allow for adequate healing and prevent further damage to the injured tissue. PRICE stands for Protection (ex. bracing, crutches), Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Be sure t to contact a physical therapist who can help you progress your rehab process, even when the injury first happens. A physical therapist will provide education and prescribe safe and effective exercises to improve range of motion, strength and function of your injured muscle, tendon or ligament and help get you back to living your best life.
~ Alex, Physiotherapist