A strain is defined as localized to a muscle or muscular region within the muscle belly, or a the end of the muscle, where the muscle becomes a tendon, thereby attaching itself to a nearby bone. A sprain is defined as also a localized region, but this time the injured or stretched tissue is ligamentous vs muscular. This source of irritation is much less elastic and tends to have a poorer prognosis as far as healing capacity, but is not an impossible task. A strain can recuperate and replace muscle tissue with connective tissue especially with larger strains. A sprain scars over unfortunately without the same cell type, and has a higher rate of re-tearing or re-injury.
A musculoskeletal injury such as a strain or sprain usually accompanies edema or swelling. Edema is described as protein rich fluid in between the muscle fibers where it should not be. It is essential that edema is controlled in the early stage of trauma for quick and early recovery. If the edema continues for a prolonged period of time, effusion can occur. Effusion is the escaping of fluid from the blood vessels into surrounding tissue, which is diffuse, and is or over a greater area vs localized to the injury site.
Whether you suffer from edema, effusion or both, from a traumatic or repetitive injury, it is wise to seek medical advice. You may be told to elevate you body part above your heart as to increase the assistance of gravity to alleviate fluid accumulation. You may also be advised to use an ice pack to control the swelling. Ice bags or a cold gel pack can be used for 10-15 minutes at a time to reduce edema or swelling to the injured area. This can be done many times during the day; just NOT all day long. Prolonged icing can be harmful causing frostbite if left on too long. Also, the use of dry or moist heat to a new injury which had occurred < 72 hours can be harmful. The reason why is that vasodilatation or expansion of the blood vessels occurs with heat application increasing the blood flow forcing edema to the area, thereby hindering your recuperation overall. However, moist heat / dry heat after trauma or injury can be helpful in recuperating after 4-5 days with an increased movement and pain relief as long as the edema has dissipated to a normal level. No matter what, you can not go wrong with a cold pack for 10-15 minutes.
Activity or exercise specific for the injured area can be beneficial if done with common sense and without pain. The old saying “No pain, no gain” does not apply to injured tissue, only healthy strength building muscles. Therefore, if you are not sure, it may be wise to seek medical attention as to rehabilitation properly. This will give you specific do’s and don’ts depending on your post condition.
A strain or sprain can remain for years if it goes untreated, never giving you the chance to recuperate properly. A person may complain of “low back pain” or a ‘bad shoulder” for years and accept it as part of aging. Our bodies have an incredible capacity to improve conditions no matter how old the injured tissue. It is never too late to try to enhance your function with proper exercises if your injury is greater than 4-7 days old. Even if your initial injury is 50 years old, it is still worth it to trying to recuperate and improve the state of the surrounding tissue.
Musculoskeletal injuries can be debilitating and overwhelming initially and long after the edema subsides. Strains and sprains respond to ice packs, dry or moist heat packs to the region and / or specific exercises with guidance if necessary. Check with your doctor.
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