Wednesday, November 14 , 2018, 6:47 am | Fair 45º

Your Health
A Noozhawk partnership with Cottage Health

Strains and Sprains, and Why Exercise May Be Your Best Defense

(Cottage Health photo)

Understanding the difference between a strain and a sprain actually is instrumental in prevention and treatment.

Both strains and sprains are injuries caused by over-stretching. The muscles, tendons and ligaments in your body are all elastic tissues, made for stretching to a point. Past that point, the tissue breaks. Both types of injuries can cause sharp and immediate pain.

A strain is damage to a muscle or the tendon that links muscle to bone. The most common places for this sort of injury to happen is in the neck, back, thigh or calf. A strain hurts, and you may see a bruise or experience tenderness deep in the muscle.

A sprain is an injury to a ligament, the elastic tissue in your joints like the ankle, knee, wrist or elbow. You may actually hear a snap or pop when a sprain happens. The joint will swell or bruise. Very rapid swelling can be one sign that the injury is severe. If that happens or if you are unable to put any weight on the joint without intense pain, you should see a doctor.

How Do These Injuries Occur?

“Strains occur most frequently when a muscle gets stretched in an awkward or unexpected way,” explained Dr. Victor Tacconelli, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with the Cottage Center for Orthopedics.

“Bending at the waist to lift a heavy object is a prime cause of back strain. Another cause of strain is sudden effort, like breaking into a sprint or jumping right into a weight-lifting exercise without warming up first.”

Sprains are more likely to happen when you stumble or fall. When your foot rolls sideways on a rocky trail or the edge of a curb, you can sprain your ankle.

Similar pressures can happen while you move and brake quickly while playing sports like basketball or tennis. Another cause of sprains is a bad landing after a jump. You might stretch or tear ligaments in your wrist or elbow if you try to break a fall with an outstretched arm, forcing those joints to absorb your full weight.

How Can I Avoid Strains and Sprains?

To avoid strains, take the time to learn how to lift properly, using your leg muscles instead of your back. If you exercise more regularly, you may be able to prevent some strains simply because the muscles will be both stronger and more flexible.

You can lower your risk of sprains by choosing the right shoes and protective gear sports. Running shoes are designed to cushion and absorb the shocks that happen during long, regular strides. That cushioning can actually cause problems if you use those shoes for tennis or a back-country hike, because those activities require more ankle support.

You can’t be prepared for accidental falls, but tumbles are bound to happen while you learn a new sport like in-line skating or snowboarding, so plan accordingly. Wear protective wrist, elbow and knee pads to keep those joints in working order.

And warming up before exercise really is worth it. A few minutes of light aerobic activity heats up your muscles and ligaments, making them more pliable and less prone to tearing. Stretching is also a good idea, especially if you make it a regular practice, since it can increase flexibility.

It’s worth repeating that exercise is your first defense. The payoff is stronger muscles that are less likely to strain. And exercise improves your balance and coordination, reducing the chance you will experience an accidental fall. Just make sure you respect your body and ease into any new stretches or activities.

How Should I Treat a Strain or Sprain?

Both a strain and a minor sprain can benefit from the RICE treatment:

» Rest: Give the injury 24 to 48 hours of quiet to heal. Use crutches or a sling to take the pressure off damaged joints.

» Ice: Get ice on the injury as soon as you can. Cold can ease pain and reduce inflammation. If you don’t have an ice pack, grab a bag of frozen peas. Protect your skin with a layer of damp towel, though, and don’t leave the pack on for more than 20 minutes at a time. Apply the ice pack at least three times a day for the first couple of days.

» Compression: Fluid can accumulate in the damaged tissue. An elastic bandage can provide the compression you need, but be careful not to wrap it too tightly since that can restrict blood flow. Tingling, cold or a bluish tint are all signs that the bandage is too tight.

» Elevation: Position the injured area so it is higher than your heart. This means sitting or stretching out with a pillow under your leg or arm. This will help reduce swelling.

In addition to the RICE remedy, you should take an anti-inflammatory pain reliever such as aspirin or ibuprofen. You’ll hurt less, and the swelling should go down.

It may take a week or more for the healing to take place. Take it easy when you resume normal activity. If it hurts to move the joint, don’t push it. Once you can move it without pain, start strengthening the muscles around it. A physical therapist can give you advice about exercises.

When Should I See a Doctor?

Moderate and severe sprains and strains will benefit from prompt treatment.

Don’t ignore these symptoms:

» Severe pain or extreme sensitivity to touch

» Inability to bear weight

» Swelling is normal, but lumps or crookedness along the injured joint or muscle are not

» Numbness in the injured area

» Redness or red streaks spreading out from the injury

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.


Special Reports

Heroin Rising
<p>Lizette Correa shares a moment with her 9-month-old daughter, Layla, outside their Goleta home. Correa is about to graduate from Project Recovery, a program of the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse, and is determined to overcome her heroin addiction — for herself and for her daughter. “I look at her and I think ‘I need to be here for her and I need to show her an example, I don’t want her to see me and learn about drugs’,” she says.</p>

In Struggle to Get Clean, and Stay That Way, Young Mother Battles Heroin Addiction

Santa Barbara County sounds alarm as opiate drug use escalates, spreads into mainstream population
Safety Net Series
<p>Charles Condelos, a retired banker, regularly goes to the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics for his primary care and to renew his prescription for back pain medication. He says Dr. Charles Fenzi, who was treating him that day at the Westside Clinic, and Dr. Susan Lawton are some of the best people he’s ever met.</p>

Safety Net: Patchwork of Clinics Struggles to Keep Santa Barbara County Healthy

Clinics that take all comers a lifeline for low-income patients, with new health-care law about to feed even more into overburdened system. First in a series
Prescription for Abuse
<p>American Medical Response emergency medical technicians arrive at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital with little time to spare for victims of prescription drug overdoses.</p>

Quiet Epidemic of Prescription Drug Abuse Taking a Toll on Santa Barbara County

Evidence of addiction shows an alarming escalation, Noozhawk finds in Prescription for Abuse special report
Mental Health
<p>Rich Detty and his late wife knew something was wrong with their son, Cliff, but were repeatedly stymied in their attempts to get him help from the mental health system. Cliff Detty, 46, died in April while in restraints at Santa Barbara County’s Psychiatric Health Facility.</p>

While Son Struggled with Mental Illness, Father Fought His Own Battle

Cliff Detty's death reveals scope, limitations of seemingly impenetrable mental health system. First in a series