Sprains and strains are a common type of injury that affect muscles and ligaments. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue around joints that connect one bone to another. They help to keep bones together and stable.
Symptoms of sprains and strains include:
- swelling and inflammation
- loss of movement in the affected body part
A sprain occurs when one or more of your ligaments have been stretched, twisted or torn, usually as a result of excessive force being applied to a joint. The most common locations for a sprain to occur are:
- the knee – which can become strained when a person turns quickly during physical activities
- the ankle – which can become strained when walking or running on an uneven surface
- the wrist – which can become strained when a person falls onto their hand
- the thumb – which can become strained during repetitive physical activity (such as playing a racquet sport) or a fall
A strain occurs when the muscle fibres stretch or tear. They usually occur when the muscle has been stretched beyond its limits or it has been forced to contract (shorten) too quickly. Strains can develop as the result of an accident, or during physical activities, such as running or playing football. Read more about the causes of sprains and strains. The most common types of strains are:
- hamstring strains – the hamstrings are muscles that run down the back of the leg and are connected to the hip and knee joints
- gastrocnemius and soleus strains – the gastrocnemius and soleus are the medical name for the muscles of the calf
- quadriceps strains – the quadriceps are muscles located at the front of the thigh
- lumbar strains – the lumbar muscles are found in the lower back
Most sprains and strains can usually be treated with self-care techniques, such as PRICE therapy – protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation. Generally, you should keep moving a sprained joint but immobilise a sprained muscle. You should see your GP if you are in severe pain, or if the injury is not improving or is getting worse. Painkillers can be used to help ease any pain, and stronger ones may be prescribed if you have a serious injury. Most people will be able to resume normal activities within six to eight weeks. Severe muscle strains may take longer. Prevention There are a number of ways you can help to prevent sprains and strains, including:
- using the correct footwear for activities
- warming up properly before exercise
- stretching or ‘warming down’ after exercise
- doing regular strengthening and conditioning exercises
How common are they?
Sprains and strains are very common. For example, ankle sprain is the most common type of sprain, accounting for an estimated 1-1.5 million visits to accident and emergency (A&E) departments each year in the UK. And it is estimated that 90% of professional footballers will experience at least one muscle strain during the course of a football season.