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Strain vs. Sprain: What’s the Difference?

There’s usually one of two culprits when it comes to pain, tenderness, and swelling. We’re talking, of course, about strains and sprains. These similarly-named injuries get even more confusing when you realize they can both feel fairly similar. However, there are definitely some big differences between the two. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “is this what getting old feels like,” this is the post for you. We will talk about strains vs. sprains, their symptoms, treatment, and prevention.

What is a Strain?

In simple terms, a strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon (tissue that connects muscles to bones). These fibrous, tough tissues help to keep us moving, so they experience a lot of wear and tear. As a result, straining a muscle or tendon is a common injury.

Strains often happen in your back or your legs. They can come in one of two types: acute or chronic. While acute strains are one-and-done injuries that resolve on their own, chronic strains keep coming back when you aggravate them.

Strain Symptoms

Strains always exhibit the same symptoms. However, since they’re pretty generalized, these injuries can sometimes be tough to self-diagnose. Symptoms of strains include:

  • Pain or tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Swelling and inflammation
  • Cramping

What Causes Strains?

Strains come in various severity. These different grades of strains can have different causes. For example, simply overstretching a muscle or tendon can lead to a strain. That’s actually not incredibly difficult to do. Common sports that can cause strains involve fast starts. That includes anything with running and jumping. Contact sports can also cause hamstring strains.

More severe strains are rarer and require a different scenario. They can either result from one particularly traumatic injury or repeated poor body mechanics. The latter can often lead to chronic, long-lasting strains. Tennis Elbow is an example of this. They may also result from lifting objects that are too heavy.

What is a Sprain?

In contrast to a strain, sprains usually result from damage to a joint. Specifically, it involves damage to a type of connective tissue called ligaments. Ligaments connect bone to bone, giving our body the structural integrity it needs for us to move around. Like tendons and muscles, ligaments see a lot of use throughout our lifetimes. Because of this, strains can be pretty common injuries, too.

Sprains often affect a person’s ankles, knees, and wrists. Doctors have divided sprains into three different levels of severity.

  • Grade 1 (Mild): some damage or overextension has occurred in the ligament’s fibers.
  • Grade 2 (Moderate): the ligament has partially torn. There is some unusual looseness in the joint when moved in some directions.
  • Grade 3 (Severe): the ligament has completely torn. The joint has essentially been severed. Make no mistake – this is an extremely severe injury. It demonstrates substantial instability in every direction.

Sprain Symptoms

Sprains actually share several symptoms with strains. However, they do have some unique traits of their own. Symptoms include:

  • Pain and tenderness
  • Swelling and inflammation
  • Abnormal joint looseness (laxity)
  • Bruising

Bruising and joint looseness are two of the main ways to tell the differences between sprains and strains.

What Causes Sprains?

By far one of the most common types of sprains is a sprained ankle. This happens when your foot turns inwards while you’re moving forward. This puts a lot of strain on the ligaments in your outer ankle and can injure them. Knees suffer from lots of sprains, too. They can occur whenever any sudden twist happens in your legs.

Any sport involving a lot of tight gripping can also cause sprains. Sports like tennis, gymnastics, golf, and squash can cause sprains in your hands and elbows. Wrists are common sprain sites. Any situation where you use your hand to break a fall can cause a wrist sprain, so they’re common in contact sports as well.

Strains vs. Sprains: Recovery

Unfortunately, both strains and sprains can take a fairly long time to heal. However, you can cut down on recovery time for both strains and sprains by using the RICE method.

  • Rest: probably the most important way to heal a sprain or a strain. Stop all exercise and avoid putting any weight on the affected area.
  • Ice: Put ice in a bag and apply it to the injury. Do this 2 or 3 times a day for 20 minutes. Technically you don’t need to use ice for this – you can by cold packs at your local pharmacy.
  • Compression: Wrap the affected area. This can help reduce swelling and get you feeling normal faster. You can either use a bandage or trainer’s tape. If you start feeling numb, loosen the wrap.
  • Elevation: elevate the affected limb. Keep it above your chest if possible. This helps promote blood flow.

Using CBD for Strains and Sprains

The main idea behind RICE is to reduce inflammation. By reducing inflammation, you can get rid of all that soreness and stiffness and get back to living your life. RICE isn’t the only way to get rid of swelling, though.

You can also consider trying CBD. Research going back for decades has suggested that CBD may be able to reduce inflammation and swelling. In doing so, CBD can help alleviate the main symptoms of both strains and sprains and get you back on your feet.

CBD topicals can provide targeted relief fast. You can learn more about CBD topicals (and pick some up for any joint pain) at our online store. And for long-lasting, full-body relief of pain and swelling, you can explore the CBD gummies, oils, and capsules in our entire inventory here.

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