Sprains and Strains Treatment Questions and Answers
Sprain and strain injuries need to be treated to ensure proper healing and prevent long-term mobility issues. The Spine and Orthopedic Institute at St. Vincent Charity specializes in sprains and strain injuries, among other issues of the musculoskeletal system.
What are the symptoms of sprain and strain?
When a person has a fall, is struck, or twists part of their body out of normal position, they may sustain a sprain or strain injury. Sprains are tears or excessive stretching of ligaments (tissue that connects bones to bones at a joint) while strains are tears or too much stretching of muscles or tendons (tissue that connects muscles to bones). The joints most commonly affected by sprains and strains are ankles, knees, wrists, and thumbs.
Sprains and strains happen most often in contact sports, but also in non-contact sports due to repetitive motions and could happen anytime a person is doing a physical activity.
Symptoms of sprains and strains are similar and include mild, moderate, or severe pain, swelling, bruising, and being unable to bear weight or move the affected joint. Sprains and strains are sometimes described by grades that define how severe the damage is.
Grade 1 – stretching of the ligament, tendon, or muscle fibers. The joint is still stable or mildly unstable.
Grade 2 – an incomplete tear of the ligament, tendon, or muscle. Some looseness in the joint will be noticed.
Grade 3 – a complete tear or rupture of the ligament, tendon, or muscle. The joint won’t be stable, and the patient will not be able to put weight on the injured area.
If the sprain or strain injury is severe, it may be as painful as a broken bone, and you need to see a doctor to properly diagnose and treat the injury.
What happens if a sprain and strain goes untreated?
While mild damage to ligaments, muscles, and tendons will heal with at-home care using over-the-counter pain relievers and RICE therapy (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), if the damage is more severe, it needs medical attention. Torn or completely ruptured ligaments need to be properly aligned to heal correctly. If they aren’t, they could heal improperly, which can cause long term weakness or loss of flexibility in the joint. This can result in permanent reduction to range of motion, long-lasting difficulty bearing weight, and chronic pain.
If you immediately can’t bear weight, or if pain and swelling do not improve after 48 hours, or any symptoms get worse, you should see an orthopedic specialist. In Ohio, The Spine and Orthopedic Institute at St. Vincent Charity specializes in sprains and strains.
Which doctor to consult for sprain and strain?
Orthopedic surgeons specialize in musculoskeletal concerns, often without surgery. They can diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate sprains and strains. During your consultation, orthopedic surgeons may do some diagnostic imaging like x-rays to ensure there are no fractures to the bones or an MRI to check damage to ligaments. Depending on the severity of the injury, we may recommend crutches or a cast to keep the joint stable, physical therapy exercises to regain strength and mobility, or medications and injections. If the injury is very severe or does not resolve with therapies, sometimes surgery to repair the torn tendon or ligament may be recommended.
How long do sprains and strains take to heal?
Mild sprains and strains can heal with basic care at home in a few days to 2 months. Moderate to severe sprains and strains may take a few weeks to a few months, depending on how much damage was done, especially if reconstructive surgery is needed.
It’s important not to try to rush recovery from sprains and strains. If healing is incomplete, you could re-injure the joint and it could be more severe. It’s best to take rehabilitation slowly, with gentle activity first, working up to more intense use of the joint. Your doctor at The Spine and Orthopedic Institute will recommend exercises to get you back to normal activity levels at a safe pace. We serve patients from Medina OH, Middleburg Heights OH, Akron OH, Parma OH, and Wellington OH.