You will often hear joint sprains and strains referred to as similar injuries. Both sprains and strains are very common sports injuries, often occurring with a sudden forceful twisting of an ankle or knee. However, joint strains and sprains are not always sudden, as they can be caused by repetitive use as well. Here are the basic differences between joint sprains and strains and how they are treated.
What Is a Joint Sprain?
A joint sprain occurs when the ligaments in a joint are stretched or torn. Ligaments hold the joint bones together; when the knee twists abnormally during a fall or when quickly changing direction, the ligaments can be stretched beyond their limitations. Joint sprains are intensely painful when they occur, and swelling commonly follows quickly after the injury.
Joint sprains can be mild, with only stretching or minor tears to the ligaments. They can also be severe, tearing the ligaments completely. Treatment depends on the level of sprain. Most knee, ankle, shoulder or elbow sprains can heal without surgery. However, they may need conservative medical treatments and physical therapy. Complete tears can require surgery, such as an ACL tear or other knee ligament tear.
A joint strain is when tendons or muscles attached to the joint are stretched, torn or injured. A strain is more common in large muscle groups, like the lower back or hamstrings, but they can also occur in the joints. A rotator cuff injury in the shoulder is a type of joint strain – the rotator cuff is comprised of muscles and tendons that help rotate the shoulder joint. Jumper’s knee, or patellar tendonitis, can often be related to a strain of the tendon that connects the kneecap to the tibia.
Joint strains, like sprains, can be mild to severe. Stretched or damaged tendons in the shoulder, elbow, knee or ankle can require rest, anti-inflammatory medications and possibly physical therapy to recover. Severe or complete tears may require orthopedic surgery.
Both joint sprains and strains can be painful and weaken the joint. It is important to ensure the tissues heal properly to avoid future injuries. If you have a joint sprain or strain that needs treatment, contact us at DOCS Health in Los Angeles. We offer advanced and minimally-invasive treatments for joint injuries.