Sprains and Strains: Symptoms of Overuse and Minor Injuries

Sprains and strains are common orthopedic injuries, which are injuries of the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. Though people tend to use these terms interchangeably, a sprain is an injury to a ligament, while a strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon. They can happen anywhere in the upper or lower body, but most commonly affect the ankles. In fact, more than 23,000 ankle sprains are estimated to occur every single day in the United States alone.

Common risk factors for sprains and strains

Sprains are often the result of a trauma (e.g., falling or twisting) and strains are often the result of overstretching or overusing. Athletes, people who have had sprains and strains before and those who are overweight have the highest risk of sustaining a sprain or strain. Other risk factors for sprains and strains include:

  • Sports that involve jumping, like basketball or volleyball
  • Sports that involve repetitive use of the ankle or wrist joints, like soccer, golf, gymnastics, tennis or soccer
  • Sports that involve high contact or jarring movements, like football, rugby or hockey
  • Sports that require high endurance and involve repetitive use of the ankle joints, like running
  • People who are starting a new sport or activity for the first time
  • People with neurologic problems or balance disorders (e.g., vertigo or motion sickness)

Common symptoms of an overuse strain

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a general term used to describe the pain felt in the muscles, nerves and tendons as a result of repetitive movement and overuse. Strains are common overuse injuries and are considered microtraumas, which means they’re caused by repetitive stress to bones, joints, ligaments, tendons or muscles. Symptoms of an overuse strain injury can range from mild to severe and typically develop gradually. They often include:

  • Pain, aching or tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Throbbing
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Weakness
  • Cramping

Treatment options for RSI

If left untreated, symptoms of RSI may become chronic, leading to longer periods of pain and discomfort. You may also experience prolonged periods of swelling in the affected area. Here are common treatment options for RSI:

  • Identify and modify the tasks or activities causing symptoms
  • Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication
  • Alternate hot and cold compresses at 10-minute intervals
  • Rest the affected area until symptoms go away
  • Use an elastic support or splint to support the affected area
  • Try massage, yoga or osteopathy to relieve symptoms and strengthen the affected area

Common symptoms of minor sprain injuries

Common symptoms of minor sprain injuries include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Limited mobility of the affected joint
  • Hearing or feeling a “pop” in your joint at the time of the injury

If you are unable to put weight on the affected joint, have pain directly over the bone or have numbness in any part of the injured area, it’s important to get treated by a medical professional to avoid further complications.

Treatment options for minor sprain injuries

Most mild to moderate sprain injuries are easily treatable at home with the RICE approach, which includes a combination of rest, ice, compression and elevation:

  • Rest
    Give your joint time to heal by avoiding any activities that cause pain, swelling or discomfort of any kind.
  • Ice
    Whether you’re getting medical treatment for your sprain injury or not, it’s important to ice the area immediately to alleviate swelling. Use an ice pack or cold compress for 15-20 minutes and repeat every 2-3 hours while you are awake for the first few days following the injury.
  • Compression
    Use an elastic bandage to help stop the swelling. It’s important not to wrap the area too tightly, as it can inhibit circulation and actually make symptoms worse. Start by wrapping at the end farthest from your heart and work your way up. Loosen the wrap if you begin to notice an increase in pain, the area becomes numb, or you being to notice swelling below the wrapped area.
  • Elevation
    Raise the affected joint above the heart, especially at night, to help reduce any swelling that occurred throughout the day.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, like Ibuprofen, can also help reduce symptoms. If after 2 days you do not notice a significant improvement of symptoms or you are unable to bear weight on the affected joint, visit your local urgent care for immediate medical care. The board-certified physicians at Coastal Urgent Care of Bossier/Haughton can help alleviate the pain and discomfort of mild to severe sprain and strain injuries.  We welcome walk-in appointments Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., or Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.