UW Health Sports Medicine 

Sports Medicine Corner: Strains and sprains

ON WISCONSIN <b>Athletic trainer Ashley Parr works on softball student-athlete Letty Olivarez in the training room</b>
Athletic trainer Ashley Parr works on softball student-athlete Letty Olivarez in the training room

May 26, 2010

Turf toe? What in the world is turf toe? University of Wisconsin graduate assistant athletic trainer Ryan Dean answers questions many fans have about common sports injuries in a new series on UWBadgers.com, The Sports Medicine Corner. In part three of the series, Dean examines the differences between strains and sprains.

-- Whenever a big-name professional athlete is injured, there are always hours upon hours of coverage on your favorite sports channel and the Internet.

Sometimes the terminology used to describe these injuries is pretty straightforward. Other times, terms may be used that you often hear about but don’t fully understand. Today we examine two of these terms that, while close in spelling, are often used (incorrectly) as interchangeable: strain and sprain.

Strain: A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon (bands that connect muscle to bone) inside the body.  Strains are a stretching or tearing to the fibers of the muscle or tendon.  Examples of strains would be: calf strain, hamstring strain, back strain.  Remember, if it involves a muscle or tendon, it’s not a sprain, it’s a strain.

A sprain is an injury to the ligaments of the joints in the human body. Sprains can be classified in one of three degrees, or grades. A Grade I sprain means the ligament has been stretched but not torn. A Grade II sprain means the ligament has been stretched and partially torn. Finally, a Grade III sprain means the ligament has been completely torn. Depending on the ligament involved, Grade III sprains may require surgery. One example of a sprain is a knee sprain, which could mean damage to any or all of the MCL, ACL, PCL or LCL ligaments.

So the next time you hear that an athlete has suffered a knee sprain, you’ll have a better idea as to what that actually means.

Ryan Dean
UW Sports Medicine

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