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Sprains and Strains

What Is a Sprain?

A sprain is an injury to a ligament (tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint). In a sprain, one or more ligaments is stretched or torn.

What Causes a Sprain?

Many things can cause a sprain. Falling, twisting, or getting hit can force a joint out of its normal position. This can cause ligaments around the joint to stretch or tear. Sprains can occur if people:

Where Do Sprains Usually Occur?

Sprains happen most often in the ankle. Sometimes when people fall and land on their hand, they sprain their wrist. A sprain to the thumb is common in skiing and other sports.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Sprains?

The usual signs and symptoms of a sprain are:

Sometimes people feel a pop or tear when the injury happens. A sprain can be mild, moderate, or severe.

What Is a Strain?

A strain is an injury to a muscle or a tendon (tissue that connects muscle to bone). In a strain, a muscle or tendon is stretched or torn.

What Causes Strains?

A strain is caused by twisting or pulling a muscle or tendon. Strains can happen suddenly or develop over days or weeks. A sudden (acute) strain is caused by:

Chronic strains are usually caused by moving the muscles and tendons the same way over and over.

Where Do Strains Usually Occur?

Two common sites for a strain are the back and the hamstring muscle in the back of the thigh. Sports such as soccer, football, hockey, boxing, and wrestling put people at risk for strains in the back or legs. People who play some sports use their hands and arms a lot. Examples are gymnastics, tennis, rowing, and golf. People who play these sports sometimes strain their hand or arm. Elbow strains can also happen when playing sports.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Strains?

A strain can cause:

If a muscle or tendon is torn completely, it is often very painful and hard to move.

How Are Sprains and Strains Treated?

Treatments for sprains and strains are the same. To reduce swelling and pain in the first day or two, doctors usually say to:

After treating pain and swelling, doctors usually say to exercise the injured area. This helps to prevent stiffness and increase strength. Some people need physical therapy. You may need to exercise the injured area or go to physical therapy for several weeks. Your doctor or physical therapist will tell you when you can start to do normal activities, including sports. If you begin too soon, you can injure the area again.

It is important to see a doctor if you have a painful sprain or strain. This helps you get the right treatments.

Can Sprains and Strains Be Prevented?

To help prevent sprains and strains, you can:


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