Sprains, strains, and breaks can be incredibly painful and sometimes difficult to tell apart. Often, the pain is similar in each case. While it’s best to ask a doctor to diagnose an injury, knowing the basics about sprains, strains, and breaks can help you be prepared and know when you need emergency medical attention.
Know the Difference
Sprains involve a tear or stretch in a ligament, the tissue that connects bones, caused by stressing a joint and overstretching or tearing a ligament. With less severe sprains, the ligament only stretches or partially tears. However, with a very severe sprain, you will sometimes hear a pop or feel the ligament tear. This tear alters how the joint works. No matter how mild or severe, all sprains can cause pain, inflammation, bruising, and swelling. Most sprains occur in the ankle, and once you’ve sprained your ankle once, you’re at a higher risk to do so again.
Strains take place when a muscle or tendon is stretched or torn. Strains can also take place when a repetitive movement over time strains the muscle or tendon. The back and hamstring are the most common sites for a strain. Often athletes who play sports that include lots of jumping, like basketball and volleyball, strain their backs. Kicking, running, and leaping can strain a hamstring. You can spot a strain by these telltale symptoms:
- Muscle spasms
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of function