Imagine making an awkward step and feeling pain in your knee or calf. If asked, would you refer to that feeling as muscle strain or muscle sprain? Do you know the difference? If not, you shouldn’t feel bad. Chances are you are in good company. The words are often used interchangeably when people discuss injuries that they have sustained, but exactly what is the difference? Is there a difference? The following information will answer these questions.
What does strain mean?
Language experts state that the English word strain traces back to the Latin word “stringere,” which means to “draw tight, bind tight, compress, press together.” That is why medical experts refer to this kind of injury as “a stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon.”
To give you a better idea of what muscle strain is like, think about trying some extreme yoga pose without warming up first, for example, and feeling tightness in the back of your thighs afterward. In this imagined scenario, you probably would have strained your hamstrings. “Strains often occur in the lower back and in the hamstring muscle in the back of your thigh.”
What are some typical symptoms?
Except for strain-related muscles spasms, sprain and strain symptoms are almost identical. Both injuries typically result in mild to severe pain, swelling, and bruising, and you will probably have trouble walking normally until you have recovered.
What does sprain mean?
Some etymologists suggest that sprain is a variant of the French word “espraindre,” which means “to press out.” Further research suggests that the French “espraindre” stems from the Latin word “exprimere,” which, loosely translated, means the same thing as espraindre.
Precisely what does pressing out have to do with your hypothetical sore knee or calf? Not much, according to representatives of the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). They assert that “the most common location for a sprain is in your ankle.” Additionally, they define sprain as “a stretching or tearing of ligaments — the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect two bones together in your joints.”
What are some typical symptoms?
As mentioned earlier, sprain and strain symptoms are the same with one exception: The most obvious and arguably the most gruesome telltale sign of a sprain is hearing a “popping” sound when you stumble or make an awkward step, for example.
Just how bad can strains and sprains be?
That depends on several factors, such as your age, the state of your health, the impact of the injury, and your pain threshold. In most cases, mild injuries can often be treated at home. Doctors advise you to keep your leg elevated as much as possible while using over-the-counter pain relievers, ice packs, and compresses to help reduce pain and swelling. More severe injuries may require stronger pain relievers and surgery in some cases.
When should you stop DIY therapy and see a doctor?
The obvious answer is when pain becomes unmanageable. However, healthcare specialists also suggest you see your doctor if any of the following situations arise.
- You can’t tolerate short walks (i.e., just a couple of steps)
- You are unable to flex your leg or foot
- You notice immediate or gradual numbness
So now you know the difference between strains and sprains. What’s next? Avoiding strains and sprains.