Sprains and strains are among the most common injuries in sports. A sprain is an injury to the ligaments around a joint. Ligaments are the connective tissue that joins the ends of bones to one another and help to stabilize and support the joints. Ankles, knees, and wrists are most vulnerable to sprains and can occur when a joint is suddenly twisted or impacted, placing extreme tension on the ligaments in the joint.
Sprains are classified by severity into three categories or grades:
- Grade 1 (Mild): Minor stretching and damage to the ligament.
- Grade 2 (Moderate): Partial tearing of the ligament resulting in looseness when the joint is moved in certain ways.
- Grade 3 (Severe): Complete tear of the ligament causing significant instability and often requiring surgical treatment.
Symptoms of a sprain can include pain, swelling, bruising, and inflammation. Treatment often first begins with the RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) but should also be evaluated by a doctor to ensure extensive damage was not done.
Strains are similar to sprains but instead involve muscles and/or tendons. Tendons are the connective tissue that attaches muscles to bone. Like a sprain, these may be partial or complete. Symptoms can include pain, muscle spasms, weakness, swelling, and inflammation. Strains should also be treated using the RICE protocol followed by physical therapy or a home exercise program. However, more severe strains may require surgery.
Injuries such as sprains and strains can often be prevented through proper use of conditioning and training. Additionally, people can avoid these injuries by:
- Utilizing Proper Equipment: This includes regularly replacing your athletic shoes and ensuring they are properly fitting.
- Balanced Fitness: Your exercise regime should be balanced, including cardio, strength training, and flexibility exercises. Be cautious when incorporating new exercises and avoid “weekend warrior syndrome” by trying to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day rather than being sedentary throughout the week and active over the weekend.
- Warming Up: You should warm up before every workout, including before stretching. Warming up should include deep breathing and an activity such as running in place to increase blood flow and loosen up your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints.
- Cooling Down: While often overlooked, cooling down is just as important as warming up. Aim to cool down with slower and less intense activities for at least 10 minutes at the end of each workout.
- Stretching: Stretch slowly and carefully until you reach the point of muscle tension. Do not over-stretch to the point of pain. Hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds before slowly releasing it.
- Resting: Schedule regular days off from vigorous exercise and allow yourself to rest when tired.
Whether occurring from an acute injury or from overuse, if your symptoms are ever severe or persist, contact your doctor for an evaluation.