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Sprains and Strains | Overview

Most sports injuries, such as sprains or strains, are caused by minor trauma.

  • Sprains are ligament injuries resulting from wrenching or twisting a joint.
  • Strains are injuries to a muscle or tendon, and are often caused by overuse, force, or stretching.
  • The ankle is the most commonly sprained or strained joint.

What is a sprain?

A sprain occurs when ligaments (fibers that connect bones to other bones) are stretched or torn.

Sprains are usually caused by an injury, such as twisting your ankle. When this happens, your joint moves in an unnatural way and the ligament gets stretched and pulled.

What is a strain?

A strain occurs when tendons (bands at the end of muscles that connect muscles to bones) get stretched or pulled away from the bone.

These can also happen as a result of a fall or twist, but are more likely to happen over time as a result of over-using the muscles.

What are the signs that my child has a sprain or strain?

Symptoms for sprains and strains are similar and may include:

  • pain and swelling in the injured area
  • difficulty using or moving the injured area in a normal way
  • warmth, bruising, or redness in the injured area

When should my child see a doctor?

Sprains and strains occur commonly and they often heal with minimal treatment. However, some sprains and strains can be serious and require medical treatment. See your doctor as soon as possible if any of the following occur:

  • Your child has severe pain and cannot put any weight on the injured joint.
  • The injured area is very tender when you touch it.
  • The injured area looks crooked or has bumps (other than swelling) that you don’t see on the uninjured joint.
  • Your child can’t move the injured joint.
  • Your child says the injured area is numb.
  • The area has been injured several times before.

Sprains and Strains | Diagnosis & Treatments

How your child’s doctor diagnoses a sprain or strain

Your child’s doctor will examine the injured area and ask when and how your child’s injury occurred, and ask about any prior injuries. If the injury is mild, an x-ray may not be taken. If your child’s injury is more severe, a variety of diagnostic tests may be done to get detailed images of the injury. These include:

How are sprains and strains treated?

Initial treatment for strains and sprains includes R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation).

Other treatment options may include:

  • medications to help control pain and swelling
  • restricting activities
  • your child may need a splint or cast
  • crutches or a wheelchair may be needed
  • physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the injured muscles, ligaments, and tendons is sometimes recommended
  • rarely, surgery is needed if the injury is reoccurring, there's persistent pain, or if a muscle, tendon, or ligament is badly torn

The good news is that sprains and strains heal quickly in children and teenagers. But it's important for your child to follow any activity restrictions to prevent re-injury.

Sprains and Strains | Programs & Services