About This Condition
Sprains and strains are types of minor injuries to the soft tissues and connective tissues of the musculoskeletal system. Sprains usually refer to injuries to ligaments, but sometimes to other connective tissues, such as tendons and the capsules surrounding joints. Strains usually refer to injuries to muscles or to the areas where muscles become tendons.
Sprains and strains may occur together, and occasionally are quite severe, requiring immobilization of the body part in a rigid cast for weeks, long-term rehabilitation programs, and sometimes surgery.
The most common type of sprain is the ankle sprain. Ankle sprains have differing degrees of severity. Mild or minimal sprains with no tear of the ligament usually produce mild tenderness and some swelling. Moderate sprains, in which the ligament has been partially ruptured, produce obvious swelling, bruising, significant tenderness, and difficulty walking. Severe sprains, as when the ligament is completely torn from the bone (called avulsion), make walking impossible and produce marked swelling, internal bleeding and joint instability.
Symptoms of strains include muscle soreness, muscle spasm, pain, and possibly swelling or warmth over the involved muscle.
Treatment of minor sprains and strains includes resting the affected area, applying cold packs or ice, wrapping the area with a compression bandage (ACE®), and keeping the affected area elevated as much as possible. Mild to moderate ankle sprains usually require strapping with elastic bandages or tape or immobilization with a brace. Health care providers recommend “RICE” for sprains and strains, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. A sprained ankle should always be X-rayed to rule out a fracture.