Sprains, Strains & Tears

What is a Tear?

A tear is when fibrous bands of connective tissue are separated. Tears can occur in ligaments, muscle, and tendons. Tears can be partial or full and indicate moderate to severe injury. This post explores sprains and strains and what is classified as a tear.

What is a Sprain?

Sprains are injuries to ligaments, which are fibrous bands of connective tissue that stabilize joints. Sprains occur when there is a stretch to a ligament with a force that exceeds what the ligament can typically handle as a result of sudden movement.

Grading Sprains

The ligament is stretched but none of the fibrous band are torn. The ligament still provides stability to the joint. Pain will be mild with minimal swelling.

The ligament is stretched to the point where the fibrous band is partially torn. The ligament provides less stability to the joint. Pain and swelling will be moderate with some bruising.

The ligament is completely torn and separated. The ligament does not provide any stability to the joint and the joint will feel loose. There may be a “popping” sensation or sound during the injury. Pain, swelling, and bruising is severe. In some cases, there may be no pain due to complete rupture.

What is a Strain?

Strains are injuries to muscles or tendons. Muscles are tissues that contract to generate force, and tendons are strong and fibrous connective tissue that attach a muscle to bone. Strains occur when there is an excessive force generated, overuse, stretch, or sudden impact to the muscle and/or tendon that exceeds what it can typically handle.

This is not to be confused with tendinopathy, tendinitis, or tendinosis which are repetitive stress injuries.

Grading Strains

The muscle is stretched but there is little to no tearing. The muscle is painful to contract but is functional. Pain will be mild with minimal swelling and bruising.

The muscle is partially torn. Muscle function is intact but very weak and painful upon activation. Pain, swelling, and bruising will be moderate to severe. This may be accompanied by muscle spasms.

The muscle is completely torn. The muscle cannot function and contract properly, and there is severe pain, swelling, and bruising. There is extreme difficulty with moving the affected limb. Part of the muscle may shorten in the form of a gap or bulge as a result of the separation. This may be accompanied by muscle spasms. 

What to do after a sprain or Strain?

Immediately after a sprain, it is important to control for inflammation and swelling using R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Immobilization).

Click here for more information on how to apply R.I.C.E.

If the injury is severe, it’s important to see a healthcare professional to properly diagnose the injury, grade it, and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.