A challenging workout routine will increase muscle mass and strengthen the bones in your body. However, a routine that is too challenging can easily result in a sprain or strain — sidelining you for a few days or even a few weeks.
“Professional athletes can even overdo it and sprain or strain themselves,” explains Peter B. Ajluni, DO, a retired osteopathic orthopedic physician from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. “Being familiar with the two types of injuries can help detect and prevent them.”
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors affect your wellbeing. They listen and partner with you to help prevent injury and encourage your body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.
A sprain is an injury to a ligament, the tissue that connects your bones at a joint. Sprains cause one or more ligaments at the joint to stretch or tear. The most frequent sprain is the ankle.
“Sprains typically happen when you accidentally put your weight in the wrong area. For example, if you fall and land on an arm or the side of your foot, you might cause a sprain or a strain,” Dr. Ajluni explains.
He adds that a twisting injury or getting hit can also force a joint out of its normal position and cause a sprain.
“You may even feel a pop or tear when the injury happens,” he says.
As sprains become more severe; the symptoms can also become more serious. Sprains cause different degrees of pain, swelling, bruising and possibly an inability to move or use that joint.
“Sprains occur at the joint, whereas strains more commonly are an injury to a muscle or a tendon not at the joint,” explains Dr. Ajluni. “However, similar to the ligament in a sprain, the muscle or tendon is stretched or torn in a strain.”
Strains can happen suddenly or develop over time. A strain during a workout is generally a sudden strain due to lifting heavy objects the wrong way or overstressing the muscle group.
“Weekend warriors who refuse to nurse a recent injury often fall victim to a sprain,” he says.
Strains are most commonly in the low back or the hamstrings. Athletes in sports like soccer, football or hockey experience strains in the low back or legs; whereas those who play sports with their hands and arms, like tennis, tend to strain their hands or arms.
“The symptoms of a strain are pain, swelling or cramping,” says Dr. Ajluni. “In addition, the individual may experience some muscle spasm or weakness.”
While the symptoms of a sprain and strain differ, treatments of the two injuries are generally the same. In the first few minutes after the injury occurs, Dr. Ajluni recommends an ice pack. Then, after resting the injured area, if the pain persists, visit your primary care physician. He or she may recommend a compressive wrap and crutches to rest the injury for a longer period of time.
Dr. Ajluni recommends early exercising of the area to prevent stiffness, but he cautions that you should always consult your physician before starting to exercise a sprain or strained area.
Tips for Prevention
“Sprains and strains are easily prevented,” Dr. Ajluni says.
He recommends a healthy diet to keep muscles strong and maintain a healthy weight. In addition, Dr. Ajluni says to stretch and warm up your muscles before you work out. Other recommendations include:
Wearing shoes that fit properly. If you walk on one portion of your foot more than the other, be sure to replace your shoes when that side wears down. (It’s helpful to seek the advice of a specialized running store.)
Taking a break from exercise when you are tired or in pain.
Running on flat surfaces.
Avoiding running on concrete, if possible.