A sprain is a twisting or a small tear to a ligament, commonly in the ankles, knees and wrists. A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon caused by overuse. By overuse, we mean that a certain motion is repeated hundreds of times per day or week, and the tendons aren’t given enough rest throughout the year to recover. Young athletes are often susceptible to these injuries at practice or during a game. Typically, repetitive motions cause strains to a muscle or tendon, while quick twists or awkward movement cause sprains.
Sprains and strains are easy to confuse, as the primary symptom of both is simply pain. Sprains will also have swelling in the affected area as well as difficulty moving or using the area, and warmth, bruising or redness. Strains tend to have chronic pain in the affected area without the swelling or warmth.
If your young athlete is experiencing pain that’s lasting more than just a couple of days and hindering performance, the best thing to do is see a doctor.
Because sprains are usually caused by an accident or unusual move, they can be difficult to prevent. On the other hand, there are several steps that can be taken to prevent strains, such as wearing ankle braces or high top shoes in basketball.
The key to preventing an overuse injury is to build time for rest into your practice and play schedule. Make sure that you have at least one to two days off from practice each week and take a break during the offseason. There should always be an offseason. It is not safe for an adolescent to participate in a single sport year-round without breaks. It’s also important to change up your conditioning or strengthening routine, or rotate sports, to stay in shape.
Always remember the point of playing sports is to have fun, get some exercise and learn sportsmanship. Even though practice is important, it’s not worth an injury that can have you sidelined for weeks to months at a time.
If your child suffers a sudden injury with significant pain or swelling and you suspect a severe sprain or fracture, please contact a doctor. If your child has chronic pain that isn’t improving after rest, use of ice, or anti-inflammatories, please contact a doctor.
To learn more, check out the Rocky Mountain Pediatric Orthopedics website.