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Identifying Strains and Sprangs by Mary Margaret Tan


There is quite a bit of difference in the words STRAIN and SPRAIN. In my last article, I talked about muscle strains so in this latest fitness article, I will be discussing about ligament/tendon sprains and their degrees. Yep you guessed correctly; STRAINS only involve muscles while SPRAINS involve tendons and ligaments (tendons connect muscle to bone while ligaments connect bone to bone).

Like strains, sprains have three degrees of injury, with the level of pain associated with the severity of the injury.  There are first-, second-, and third-degree sprains.

            First-degree sprains are very mild with the ligament/tendon being overstretched. Slight swelling and bruising may be visible and it may be uncomfortable to put weight on the injured area. A common example of a first-degree sprain occurring is ankle inversion during a soccer match. Recovery from first-degree sprains can take 1-3 weeks before return to normal activities.

            Second-degree sprains are moderate sprains with the ligament/tendon being slightly torn. There is increased laxity and visible limping. Walking will likely be painful. The athlete may be unable to raise his/her heel, jump, or even run. A brace may even be required to be worn. These sprains take 3-6 weeks to recover from.

            Third-degree sprains are severe with the ligament/tendon being completely torn in two. There will be swelling, tenderness, and bruising with more laxity visible. If it is an ankle sprain, the athlete may not be able to put weight on the injured area at all and will be required to wear a brace. Severe sprains may need surgery and physical therapy to assist in recovery and return to activity. Third-degree sprains can take several months to heal.

            Like muscle strains, ligament/tendon sprains are very painful and an experience that no one really wants to go through. However, unlike strains, sprains can be more difficult to heal due to lack of blood flow in the ligament/tendon. Even after recovery, the affected ligament may not go back to how it originally was before being injured. If you ever experience a sprain, use the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Stop exercising immediately and put ice on the injury to reduce tenderness. Have an athletic trainer or physical therapist wrap the area with tape to compress it and decrease swelling. Elevate the injured site so blood does not just pool around the injury. Of course, take time to rest. The road to recovery will usually involve working towards achieving full range of motion and gaining strength.

            Strains and sprains are both very painful and can affect your play on the field. Always practice safety and caution!

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