Sprains and Strains : Athletic Injuries

When athletes tear ligament that attaches bones together by stretching it beyond capacity, a sprain occurs. In contrast, a strain happens when athletes overstretch muscle fibre of the tendons. The ligaments exist to form joints in the body and to reinforce the system of moving. Tendons connect muscles to the bone to allow for exerting or transmitting force and "elasticity"  in movement. Both tendons and ligaments consist of collagen tissue. Common tendon injuries in athletics are  strain from overuse, inflammation and rupture.

Symptoms of Sprains and Strains

Ligaments exist in the joints of the fingers, toes, wrist, elbow, and knees. Symptoms of ligament sprain are difficulty using the affected joint area because the two connected bones lack reinforcement, pain, swelling or inflammation, bruising, and a snapping sound if torn. Overstretched tendons will feel painful, have bruising and swelling from inflammation. Degeneration of tendons causes weakness that can result in rupture. If a tendon tears or ruptures the athlete will be unable to walk with high burning sensation and swelling in the damaged region. Both a torn ligament and tendon will impact the athletes ability to move.

Causes of Sprains and Strains

Increased muscle use and overstretching in athletics is a cause of strain damage to the muscular-fibre collagen in tendons. The inflammation or tearing sprain of ligaments results from overextension of the joint, especially the ankle joint in athletes. Both ligaments and tendons are vulnerable to injury when athletes don’t adequately warm-up for sports or dehydrate. Other causes can be due to ill-health or poor diet.

Medical Treatment of Sprains and Strains

Both sprains and strains are initially treated with the PRICE method of protecting the injured ligament or tendon from further damage, resting, applying ice, compressing to support the afflicted area, and raising the joint area to reduce swelling. In some cases, the area may only be slightly inflamed and can heal with rest, painkillers and self-remedy. When severe injury occurs, and especially in the case of tear or rupture, a medical doctor should examine the ligament or tendon.

Usually, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or creams are provided and referral may be made to a physiotherapist to learn strengthening and proper athletic exercises. A brace may be provided in the case of torn ligaments in the ankle or knee to support the leg, or buddy taping may be used as splint. If the injury persists or is serious, a referral may be made for X-ray or MRI scan to determine further treatment. In cases of severe rupture, surgery is required.

Preventing Sprains and Strains

Both tendons and ligaments can be protected from damage by consulting a physiotherapist or professional athletics coach about recommended diet and exercise methods. Warming-up the muscles before practice is essential and drinking sufficient fluids to prevent dehydration that stiffens the muscles. Wearing orthotic supports in sports shoes and clothing can also reduce risk of injury to ligaments and tendons. Therapeutic ultrasound is also a method of building up injured tendon or muscle tissue to prevent increased injury.

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