Sprains and strains are among the most common injuries in sports.
Here are some facts about sprains and strains from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
What is a sprain?
A sprain is a stretch and/or tear of a ligament, the fibrous band of
connective tissue that joins the end of one bone with another. Ligaments
stabilize and support the body's joints. For example, ligaments in the
knee connect the upper leg with the lower leg, enabling people to walk
What is a strain?
A strain is a twist, pull and/or tear of a muscle and/or tendon.
Tendons are fibrous cords of tissue that attach muscles to bone.
What causes sprains and strains?
A sprain is caused by direct or indirect trauma (a fall, a blow to
the body, etc.) that knocks a joint out of position, and overstretches,
and, in severe cases, ruptures the supporting ligaments. Typically, this
injury occurs when an individual lands on an outstretched arm; slides
into a base; jumps up and lands on the side of the foot; or runs on an
Chronic strains are the result of overuse - prolonged, repetitive
movement - of muscles and tendons. Inadequate rest breaks during
intensive training precipitates a strain. Acute strains are caused by a
direct blow to the body, overstretching, or excessive muscle
Who gets sprains and strains?
Professional and amateur athletes and the general public, as well,
can sustain this injury. People at risk for the injury have a history of
sprains and strains, are overweight, and are in poor physical condition.
What activities make athletes most
susceptible to sprains and strains?
All sports and exercises, even walking, carry a risk of sprains. The
anatomic areas most at risk for a sprain depend on the specific
activities involved. For example, basketball, gymnastics, volleyball,
soccer, and other jumping sports share a risk for foot, leg, and ankle
sprains. Soccer, football, hockey, boxing, wrestling, and other contact
sports put athletes at risk for strains. So do sports that feature quick
starts (hurdling, long jump, running races, etc.). Gymnastics,
tennis, rowing, golf-sports that require extensive gripping-have a high
incidence of hand strains. Elbow strains frequently occur in
racquet, throwing, and contact sports.
What are the signs of a sprain?
While the intensity varies, pain, bruising, and inflammation are
common to all three categories of sprains-mild, moderate, severe. The
individual will usually feel a tear or pop in the joint. A severe sprain
produces excruciating pain at the moment of injury, as ligaments tear
completely, or separate from the bone. This loosening makes the joint
nonfunctional. A moderate sprain partially tears the ligament, producing
joint instability, and some swelling. A ligament is stretched in a mild
sprain, but there is no joint loosening.
What are the signs of a strain?
Typical indications include pain, muscle spasm, muscle weakness,
swelling, inflammation, and cramping. In severe strains, the muscle
and/or tendon is partially or completely ruptured, often incapacitating
the individual. Some muscle function will be lost with a moderate
strain, where the muscle/tendon is overstretched and slightly torn. With
a mild strain, the muscle/tendon is stretched or pulled, slightly. Some
common strains are:
Back strain. When the muscles
that support the spine are twisted, pulled, or torn, the result is a
back strain. Athletes who engage in excessive jumping (during
basketball, volleyball, etc.) are vulnerable to this injury.
Hamstring muscle strain.
A hamstring muscle strain is a tear or stretch of a major muscle in the back of the thigh. The injury can sideline
a person for up to six months. The likely cause is muscle strength imbalance between the hamstrings and the muscles in
the front of the thigh, the quadriceps. Kicking a football, running, or leaping to make a basket can pull a hamstring.
Hamstring injuries tend to recur.
How are sprains and strains
Rest, ice, compression and elevation usually will help minimize the
damage. It is important in all but mild cases for a medical doctor to
evaluate the injury and establish a treatment and rehabilitation plan. A
severe sprain or strain may require surgery or immobilization followed
by months of therapy. Mild sprains and strains may require
rehabilitation exercises and activity modification during recovery.
Self-Help Treatment Measures Sometimes
1. Intermittent application of ice to the areas for the first 24
hours to 48 hours following the injury
2. Keeping the part elevated (above the level of the heart, if
possible) to decrease swelling
3. Minimizing use of the joint, if it causes any pain
4. Use of anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin or ibuprophen
(Ask your pharmacist to explain the benefits, risks and costs of
this option if you consider using medications.)
No one is immune to sprains and strains, but here are some tips
developed by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons to help reduce your injury risk:
Participate in a conditioning program to build muscle strength
Do stretching exercises daily
Always wear properly fitting shoes
Nourish your muscles by eating a well-balanced diet
Warm up before any sports activity, including practice
Use or wear protective equipment appropriate for that sport