Common Athlete Injuries: Sprains and Strains

Sprain and Strains athlete setting up to run a sprint race

Athletes are extremely susceptible to injury. In fact, more than 10 million sports-related injuries occur each year1. These injuries can range from concussions to broken bones to a strained muscle. If you are an athlete, the likelihood of sustaining an injury is high. Athletes are especially susceptible to sprains and strains.

Strains and sprains are probably the most common athletic injury as it doesn’t take a major collision or bad fall for them to occur. If you are an athlete, here are some things you should know about sprain and strains.

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A sprain occurs when a ligament is overstretched or torn. For athletes, ankle sprains are especially common, as are wrist and knee sprains. There are two types of ankle sprains2:

Inversion sprain: This occurs when your foot bends inward, overstretching the outer ligaments. The pain will be felt on the outside of your ankle.

Eversion sprain: Similar to the inversion sprain, this type occurs when your foot falls inward. However, with an eversion sprain, the inner ligaments are stretched which causes pain on the inside of your ankle.

Additionally, there are three degrees of sprains: first degree, second degree, and third degree.

First-degree sprain2: In the case of a first-degree sprain, your ligaments have stretched but not torn. You may feel mild pain and bruising and experience stiffness and limited range of motion.

Second-degree sprain2: This is the most common type of sprain and includes a partial ligament tear. Symptoms of a second-degree sprain include

  •          Moderate pain
  •          Swelling and bruising
  •          Loss of use of your ankle

Third-degree sprain2: A third-degree sprain means the ligament has been completely torn. Symptoms may include

  •          Extreme pain and swelling
  •          Severe pain while walking
  •          Severe loss of motion and joint instability

The key steps to caring for a sprain are rest, ice, compression, and elevation—also known as the R.I.C.E method. Rest your ankle and limit weight bearing activities. For no more than 20 minutes at a time, ice your ankle to reduce swelling. Make sure to use a towel or cloth as a barrier. For compression, where a snug brace to support the injury. Finally, if have suffered a sprained ankle or knee, elevate your leg about your waist or heart3.

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A strain is also referred to as a pulled muscle. Strains occur when muscle fibers stretch or tear. Some common types of strains are

  •          Hamstring
  •          Quad
  •          Calf
  •          Groin
  •          Rotator cuff
  •          Lower back4

Similar to sprains, there are three degrees of strains.

First-degree strain4: A first-degree strain means only about 10% of the muscle fibers are torn.

Second-degree strain4: Second-degree strains can vary from 10-90% of muscle fibers torn.

Third-degree strain4: Third-degree strains generally mean the muscle has completely ruptured.

Similar to sprains, after a strain occurs, you should rest the muscle and apply cold as soon as possible. You should also keep the muscle elevated and supported by a compression bandage or brace.

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What can you do?

These injuries are more common if you participate in activities that involve stopping and going quickly, jumping, running, or shoulder use5. However, there are steps you can take to help prevent sprains and strains like taking bone and join supplements or doing the right stretches before excercising .

The most important things you can do are improve your flexibility and strengthen your muscles; this will prepare your body for any potential injury5.

1- Sports Injuries. Health Augusta University.

2- The 3 Degrees of Sprains. Southeast Ortho. Published October 13, 2015. 

3- How to Care for a Sprained Ankle. American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society.

4- Strains. The Sports Injury Clinic.

5-10 Sports Injuries You Can Prevent. WebMD.


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