Sprain, Strain, or Fracture: Which is It?

Sprain or Strain

Every year the U.S Department of Health and Human Services estimates that around 8.6 million sports injuries occur with 42% affecting the lower extremities and 30% affecting the upper extremeties. In most cases, these injuries are internal and affect the bones, muscles, ligaments, and/or tendons. These injuries are known as sprains, strains, or fractures, depending upon the structure that has been affected. 

In some cases it can be hard to determine what type of injury is present, since all three injuries manifest similar symptoms. Additionally, confusion between sprains and strains is extremely common due to their similar names. While many people may use the terms interchangeably, they are actually two different injuries. Knowing what type of injury is present is an important step to determining the right treatment protocol. Although an accurate diagnosis can only be made by a medical professional, here is a brief guide on these three types of common sports injuries: 

Sprain

ligaments on hip joint

Sprains affect the ligaments, which are the tissues responsible for holding bone to bone together within a joint. They can occur when the ligaments are overstretched or torn from activities like: walking on an uneven surface, pivoting too far, overtextending during a fall, or landing awkwardly from a jump. Sprains most commonly affect the ankle joints, but they can also affect the wrists, knees, and thumbs. In addition to the shared symptoms of pain, swelling, and bruising, sprains often produce symtpoms such as hearing a pop at the moment of injury and limited joint mobililty. Most mild sprains can be treated using the RICE method, however more severe injuries may require surgical intervention. 

Strain

tendon holding muscle to bone

Strains affect the tendons, which are tissues that hold muscle to bone. They can also affect the muscles. Muscle or tendon strains, sometimes referred to as pulled muscles, occur when either a muscle or tendon has been overstretched or torn from activities like quick starts, jumping, gripping, or throwing. Strains commonly affect the hamstrings and lower back, but can also affect the Achilles tendon, hands, and elbows. In addition to the shared symptoms of pain, swelling, and bruising, strains often produce symptoms such as limited mobility, muscle spasms, and muscle weakness. Most mild strains can be treated using the RICE method, however more severe injuries may require surgical intervention. 

Fracture

fractured leg

Fractures affect the bone and occur when the bone has either cracked or broke. There are different types of fractures including closed and open. A closed fracture is one that occurs without causing damage to the surrounding tissue. An open fracture is one that penetrates the skin so that the affected bone is visible. Both types of fractures are the result of high force impact often associated with a bad fall. In some cases, fractures can also occur as the result of repeated stresses and strains. In addition to the shared symptoms of pain, swelling, and bruising, fractures often produce symptoms such as a grating sensation, an usual bend or angle around the injury, and an inability to move or put weight on the affected area. Fractures can be treated by immobilizing the affected bone using plastic casts, plastic braces, metal plates or screws, rods, or external fixators. Sometimes surgery is also needed to properly align the bone or place hardware. 

Dr. Clouthier has obtained numerous certifications in various healing techniques such as Nutrition Response Testing, Acupuncture, NueroEmotional Technique, CranioSacral Therapy, and NeuroModulation Technique. He has also taken over 1000 hours in post-graduate training in nutritional and herbal therapies and functional medicine and is currently pursuing an advanced certification from the Institute for Functional Medicine

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