Fitness Dilemmas: Sprains and Strains

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comparing sprain and strain

What is a sprain?

You can sprain any joint but the most common twisted joints are those of your limbs, especially the ankles. This normally happens when you stress or angle the joint past its normal range, causing the ligaments to strain and stretch. Enough stress on the ligaments can result in tears, which take longer to heal.

When you sprain something, blood vessels leak fluid packed with infection-fighting cells at the joint, causing inflammation at the site of the injury. Along with the swelling, you will probably feel pain, increasing sensitivity, some throbbing, redness and warmth as more blood rushes to the area. The combination of these makes it difficult to move the limb.

How can I avoid sprains?

Sprains can also happen from day to day activities such as tripping and falling over. These might not be preventable (other than the obvious – ie watching where you are going), but sports related injuries can be more easily avoided.

You’ve probably heard it before but it is worth repeating: warming up before exercising is essential but often overlooked . Do you need to warm up for half an hour? Probably not, five to ten minutes will do. Warming up your muscles and ligaments increases the flow of blood to your arms and legs, which brings fresh oxygen to your limbs for more efficient movement and energy dispersion. In other words, you can push yourself further and maximise the benefits from your workout without injuring yourself.

Invest in some trainers – yes, you do need trainers that are a cut above those £10 neon runners. Tailor your purchase to your needs. Think, what sort of activity are you planning to do with these? Certain sports require different types of shoes with more flexibility, more durability, more grip, support, and breathability. Comfort is another key area for your shoes. You want something that will allow your feet to breathe, fit snugly, and support your ankles.

Ankle support and grip are especially important if you are planning on hiking or trekking. While it can be good to push yourself, don’t overdo it. Know your limits and so you can avoid injury from over-exercising or fatigue.

Go easy, stay safe, and be alert of your surroundings at all times.

I’ve sprained an ankle. Now what?

Try not to put much pressure on it, shifting your weight to your good foot. Best is to get it checked out, just in case it could be something worse, like a fracture. Better safe than sorry, right?

The first stage of the healing process is inflammation, where the white blood cells converge to the area and purge the injury of any bacteria and dead cells. A swollen ankle restricts movement, preventing further injury and damage.

If the sprain is not serious, you should take the following steps as soon as possible and continue for the next 48 to 72 hours:

  • Bandage the area to prevent movement and further damage
  • Use crutches or a sling to keep it fixed
  • Put some ice on the injury for about 20 minutes, then take it off for 30 minutes. Continue this pattern for the first day from injury
  • Elevate your limb
  • Rest is very important to prevent the chance of re-injury. Activity before you are fully healed can result in instability in your ankle, for which you might have to get physical therapy and increases the risk of sprains in the future
  • Painkillers such as paracetamol and NSAIDS can help with any pain short-term as well as decrease the heat and swelling of the sprain.

With rest and limited movement, you should be fully healed and back on your feet in a couple of weeks. If you find that is not the case, you should consult your GP or local pharmacist for a check-up.

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