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Sprains and Strains (cont.)

What Are Symptoms and Signs of Sprains and Strains?

Patient Comments

Sprains tend to have symptoms more localized to the injured joint. When the joint is injured, it's possible to feel a tear or pop in the joint. Pain is usually immediate, and depending on the severity of the injury, it may not be possible to use the joint. Signs and symptoms of sprains include

  • pain,
  • swelling,
  • bruising,
  • instability of the joint, and
  • decreased range of motion.

Strains, whether acute or chronic, have symptoms localized to the muscle groups or tendons that are injured. Pain can be over a small area, or a larger area, such as a group of muscles. Pain can be immediate in an acute strain, or it may be delayed in the case of an overuse injury. Signs and symptoms of strains include

  • pain,
  • inflammation,
  • muscle spasm,
  • muscle cramping,
  • muscle weakness, and
  • bruising may occur but may be delayed for several days.

What Specialists Treat Sprains and Strains?

A primary-care provider, such as a family practitioner, an internist, or a child's pediatrician, may diagnose a sprain or strain. You may also see an emergency-medicine specialist in a hospital's emergency department.

If your strain or sprain is due to an athletic injury, you may see a sports-medicine specialist. If the sprain or strain is severe, you may be referred to an orthopedist, a specialist in injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Physical therapists may also be involved in rehabilitation.

How Do Health-Care Professionals Diagnose Sprains and Strains?

Most sprains and strains are diagnosed by a history and physical exam. A doctor will examine the joint or muscle group and move them through their normal range of motion, looking for pain, tenderness, weakness, or instability.

If there is a possibility of a bone injury or fracture, an X-ray may be ordered. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is sometimes necessary to determine the exact extent of the injury because strains and sprains occur in soft tissue and do not show up on routine X-rays.

A doctor will determine the severity of a sprain or strain injury by degree or grade.

Degrees/grades of sprains, from mild to severe

  • First degree (grade 1, mild): limited pain or swelling to the joint, no instability
  • Second degree (grade 2, moderate): moderate pain, swelling, and bruising, and some instability during range of motion
  • Third degree (grade 3, severe): severe pain, swelling, and bruising; joint is unstable; ligament is ruptured or torn completely

Degrees/grades of strains, from mild to severe

  • First degree (grade 1, low): limited pain, mild tenderness
  • Second degree (grade 2, moderate): moderate pain; limited range of motion; swelling and bruising possible
  • Third degree (grade 3, high): severe pain, limited or no movement, muscle tissue severely damaged and torn
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/18/2016

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