Sprains, Strains and Sports Injuries

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guest blog by Patricia Holl, D.C., Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic

If you’ve ever taken a fall or twisted an ankle, chances are you’ve experienced a sprain or a strain. Sprains and strains are common injuries, and though these terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to different injuries.

A strain is an injury that involves stretching, tearing or twisting of a muscle or tendon. A tendon attaches a muscle to a bone, and strains commonly occur at the seam of this attachment. A strain generally occurs when a muscle suddenly contracts after being stretched out, such as with running or jumping. Strains can be categorized as either acute or chronic. An acute strain is sudden and recent whereas a chronic strain results from repetitive or excessive use and builds up over time. Symptoms of a strain include pain, weakness and loss of function.

The word sprain comes from the French ‘espraindre’, meaning ‘to press out’. A sprain is an injury which affects ligaments, which are thick bands of cartilage connecting bone to bone. A sprain occurs when a ligament has been excessively stretched or torn. A sudden, excessive and compressive force such as a fall may cause a sprain. Sprains commonly occur in the ankle as a result of sudden sideways or twisting motion of the foot. Sprains are classified according to severity, and can range from mild stretching and tenderness to severe tearing and pain. If a ligament or muscle is injured sufficiently, instability of the entire joint can ensue, as the joint becomes displaced from its normal alignment. Symptoms of a sprain include swelling, discoloration and loss of range of motion.

Treatment of sprains and strains is generally separated into immediate care and long term rehabilitation. Of course the key to complete recovery is early intervention and thorough evaluation. If you feel you have a strain or a sprain, remember this mnemonic: DR ICE.

D – Diagnosis. Though with most strains and sprains we have an innate sense of what’s occurred, it is prudent to see your health care professional to rule out any aggressive condition such as fracture, or avulsion.

R – Rest. Rest is essential not only for recovery but to arrest the progression of injury.

I – Ice. Ice treatment is effective in reducing swelling and alleviating pain. Though commonly used for acute injuries, ice packs and wraps are also effective in treating chronic conditions, such as overuse injuries. It should be mentioned that heat is also an effective modality, however it should be used with chronic conditions to help stimulate blood flow and relax tissue. Check with your doctor as to duration and intensity, as heat should always be applied in moderation. Additionally, hot and cold applications can be extremely effective in encouraging lymph flow and eliminating toxic inflammatory exudates.

C- Compression. Compression refers to taping or wrapping the injured or weakened area. Compression wraps such as kinesiotape can help decrease swelling, which will enable you to heal more quickly. This will also immobilize the injured area and serve as protection against further injury. It should be noted that prolonged immobilization can potentially result in atrophy of the muscle, so avoid bracing for prolonged periods of time. And remember…not too tight!

E- Elevation: It is important to elevate the injured area above the level of the heart. This ensures that fluids will not collect throughout the injured area and intensify swelling.

Determining the severity of a sprain or strain, and differentiating these from more severe conditions can be challenging, so occasionally imaging such as MRI or x-rays may be indicated. Inability to weight-bear or associated numbness or tingling should raise concerns. Rehabilitation and comprehensive treatment of a sprain/strain is also critical. Regenerative Injection Therapies such as Prolotherapy and Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy can be extremely helpful in repairing damaged tissue.

If you believe you have experienced a strain or sprain of any kind, remember DR ICE. If your symptoms persist, see your health care professional. Understand the cause of your symptoms, and what they mean for you, and enjoy your workout!

About the author…Dr. Holl has more than a decade of experience in comprehensive chiropractic care for pain Patricia Holl, Yellowstone Naturopathic.  April 2, 2014.management, rehabilitation, pre- and post-surgical conditioning, and general wellness.  She has been with Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic since 2006, where works with patients to relieve musculoskeletal pain without drugs or surgery.  She coordinates patient chiropractic care with other therapies (alternative and allopathic) for patient benefit; frequently lectures to medical professionals and the public on chiropractic medicine and the benefits of appropriate stretching and exercise for pain management; and instructs patients on the Egoscue method of postural alignment.