Are you the parent of a high school athlete? If so, you may have noticed that injuries are piling up. We have seen many of them here at Cohen Health and Performance in McLean and Bethesda for sports physical therapy.
Some of these injuries are traumatic, like an ACL tear, but soft tissue strains and sprains are the most common injuries that our physical therapists see.
While these words are nearly identical, they are not the same.
A strain is an injury to the muscle itself. Muscle strains often occur in the lower body with high-velocity movements like sprinting, cutting, and kicking. They also occur in the upper body with contact or a fall, although less common. Common lower-body muscle strains occur in the hamstrings, calves, quadriceps (particularly the rectus femoris muscle), and adductors.
If you athlete has strained a muscle, they will feel pain in the affected muscle right away. They are likely to describe a sensation of tearing or pulling of the muscle. Strains of the lower body usually do not happen with contact and occur when an athlete moves at a high speed or decelerates.
A muscle can be self-diagnosed at the time of the injury with a few simple assessments.
- Pain with touching the injured area
- Pain with stretching the affected muscle
- Pain and/or weakness with contraction of the affected muscle
- Possible bruising or discoloration of the skin over the injured area
A sprain is an injury to a ligament. Common sites for sprains are the ankle and knee. A sprain occurs when an area is overstretched, the ligament is injured, and potentially partially or fully torn. Sprains commonly occur as an athlete lands or steps on an opponent’s foot, or their limb gets twisted into an awkward position.
A sprain can also be self-diagnosed following using similar assessments to a muscle strain.
- Pain with palpating the injured area
- Pain with moving and bearing weight through the affected joint
- Bruising and swelling of the affected area
The key difference in distinguishing between these two injuries is the location. Sprains will be localized to a joint and a strain is localized to a muscle.
Future blog posts will include examples of how you or your athlete can manage each of these injuries.
If you are suspicious that you or your athlete has sustained a soft tissue injury, it is important to have it examined by a physical therapist as soon as possible. We will assess the injury’s severity and provide detailed guidance on how to get back in the game as quickly as possible!