Muscle Injury 101: What Is the Difference Between a Sprain, a Tear, and a Strain?

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You are exercising, walking, running, or playing your favorite sport and you twist your ankle or fall wrong. Now there is pain and something is not right. But what kind of an injury is it and how should it be treated to make it better? Days go by and that injured muscle is still painful. Now what? The injury could be a broken bone, a dislocated joint, or a muscle injury such as a sprain, torn muscle, or strained muscle. The only way to find out what the exact injury is and get proper treatment is to get medical help.


Who Can Help with Muscle Injuries?

When a person is injured, they may need immediate medical help. This may be rendered in an emergency room at the local hospital followed by the person’s family physician. The physician may recommend additional help to heal the injury and regain mobility. An Orthopedic Exercise Specialist may be the health professional to help with pain and movement problems after an injury.

But, what if the injury appears to be minor? If the injured person does not feel they need medical help at the time of injury, they may try to treat themselves at home. But, if the injury is not getting better, or if it is getting worse, the injured person should call their doctor for an examination. The doctor may recommend physical therapy or a medical exercise specialist.

What To Do At the Time of Injury

Accidents cause all sorts of injuries both minor and severe. A person can fall, trip, or overdo exercise or physical activities. No matter how a person injures themselves, it is important to treat that injury promptly and correctly. First, decide how severe the injury is. How painful is it? Is it serious enough to call an ambulance to take the injured person to a hospital? Can the person be safely transported to a hospital in a car?

Is the injury minor enough to be treated on-site and at home? Injuries that are fairly minor may be treated by what is called PRICE therapy. These letters stand for protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation. If these efforts do not help after two or three days, make an appointment with a physician.

What is the Difference Between a Muscle Sprain, Tear, or Strain?

The type of injury will determine the proper treatment. The injured person may not have the training to know what is wrong. There are symptoms with different injuries to note.

  1. A sprain is a ligament injury. The ligament is overstretched or torn. The ligament is the fibrous connective tissue connecting bones to one another. The symptoms are inflammation, muscle pain, tenderness, and limited movement. Depending on the severity, this injury can take from a week to several weeks to heal.
  2. Muscle strains or tendon injuries are also caused by overstretching, but of the muscle or the tendon. Tendons are fibers that muscles and bones are connected by. This can be a repetitive movement injury or from one event. The symptoms include muscle spasms, cramping, loss of movement, weakness, pain, bruising, and swelling of the affected area. This injury can take several weeks to heal.
  3. A tear to the muscle, ligament, or tendon is ripping apart these tissues by the same activities or accidents that cause overstretching but they are more serious and will take longer to heal. These injuries cause inflammation and pain that is more severe and can require surgery to repair. Non-surgical rehabilitation can take months to heal the injury.

When an injury occurs, it is important to treat it quickly to protect the area and reduce swelling and pain. The injury area must be rested and an effort should be made not to put weight on the injured area. If the injury is serious or painful and does not get better quickly, the person should get medical help.

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