Musculoskeletal injuries such as the common sprains, strains, and fractures account for the most doctor visits in the United States.
What are sprains and how are they caused?
A sprain occurs when a ligament, or the tissue that connects bones, stretches more than expected due to any external factor. Ligaments help to stabilize and support the joints in the body. When there is excessive stretching in these ligaments, it can result in a sprain. A sprain can, based on its severity, be classified as:
- Grade 1 or a mild sprain – There is slight stretching and some amount of damage to the fibers in the ligament.
- Grade 2 or a moderate sprain – There is a tearing of the ligament, which results in looseness in the joint.
- Grade 3 or a severe sprain – In this case, the ligament gets completely torn, causing severe instability in the joints.
The intensity of the symptoms and the treatment required will vary in each case.
Symptoms of Sprains
The symptoms of sprains include:
- Weakness in the muscles
- Feeling of instability
- Limitation in movement
Sprains are an example of acute injuries, which are caused by any forceful or sudden trauma the body experiences a fall, twist, or blow. The most vulnerable regions of the body are the wrists, knees, and ankles.
What are strains and how are they caused?
A strain Is an injury to a muscle or a tendon (tissue that attaches the muscles to the bones). The strain can be caused by stretching, twisting, or pulling of the muscle or tendon. It can be in the form of a slight stretch to the muscle or tendon or it can be in the form of a partial/complete tear. Strains can be caused as:
- Acute injuries – caused by sudden or forceful trauma
- Overuse injuries – caused by repetitive movements for long periods of time
Symptoms of Strains
The symptoms of strains include:
- Muscle weakness/stiffness
- Limitation in movement
One of the most common occurrences of a strain is in the hamstring muscle.
What are fractures and how are they caused?
When a bone(s) in the body cracks or breaks completely, the injury is classified as a fracture. Fractures occur in the bone because bones are rigid structures that can break when there is any external pressure, trauma, or injury.
The severity of the fracture depends on the impact of the trauma or injury. A small impact can result in a crack in the bone(s), while an extreme force can cause the bone(s) to shatter completely. Depending on the impact, fractures can be classified as:
- Stable fracture – The broken bones remain in place and aligned.
- Transverse fracture – The fracture occurs in a horizontal fracture line pattern.
- Oblique fracture – This fracture has an angled fracture line pattern.
- Comminuted fracture – In a severe impact, the bone shatters into several pieces.
- Open fracture – In a severe impact, the bone shatters, and fragments of the broken bone can pierce through the skin. This type of fracture is considered to be a serious one, as the chances of infection are very high.
Fractures are most commonly caused by any trauma, injury or extreme external force. They can be in the form of:
- Trauma caused by accidents, sports-related injuries.
- Overuse of muscles which place excessive force on the bones. These result in stress fractures or hairline that are common sports-related injuries.
- Bone disorders such as osteoporosis can make the bones brittle and weak, causing them to break at even the smallest impact.
At times, broken bones can also cause damage to other important structures in the region, sometimes even touching or piercing the arteries and veins.
Symptoms of fractures
The symptoms of fractures include:
- Severe pain
- Painful movement
- Limitation in movements
What are the risk factors for sprains, strains, and fractures?
A sprain, strain, or fracture can occur to anyone, at any age. A minor/major accident, a fall, a sudden blow to the body, a wrong movement while exercising, awkward posture, sports or activity-related overuse of specific structures of the body, occupational hazards, and other factors or situations can cause musculoskeletal injuries.
Some people are at a higher risk of undergoing a sprain, strain, or fracture. They include:
- People over the age of 60
- Those with musculoskeletal disorders or conditions
- People working in high-risk occupations where a slip, a fall, or a blow is likely
- Those who perform hard manual tasks
- Participation in heavy activities or exercises
- Participation in sports and athletes
- Improper ergonomics
- Inappropriate footwear
- History of sprains and strains
- Carrying heavy weight
How are sprains, strains, and fractures diagnosed?
When you consult your physician at Prime Urgent Care after an injury or experiencing any form of trauma, a healthcare professional will evaluate your condition to arrive at a diagnosis. To diagnose the injury as a sprain, strain, or fracture, the evaluation will be conducted as follows:
- Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the trauma or injury
- Past medical history
- Current signs and symptoms
- Physical examination and evaluation to check for tears, broken bones, deformities, etc. as well as signs such as inflammation and weakness
The physician may also advise an MRI or an X-ray to evaluate if there is any damage to the bone as well as the extent of it. X-rays are recommended both to rule out a fracture, to help narrow down to a sprain or a strain, as well as to confirm a fracture. MRIs help to determine the extent of damage in case of a sprain or a strain, which does not show on an X-ray.
X-rays give a clear image of the bone, making diagnosis simple. They can also indicate the type of fracture and its exact location.
How are sprains, strains, and fractures treated?
After careful consideration of the type and severity of the injury, your physician at Prime Urgent Care can recommend a treatment plan which includes the following:
- Application of hot or cold packs
- Ultrasound therapies
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for the inflammation and pain
- Local application of gels and ointments
- Sling, splint, cast or leg immobilizer
- Surgical stitches or sutures
The very first step in the treatment in case of a sprain or strain is the protocol of RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Following the RICE protocol along with physical therapy to help reduce the pain and increase mobility are the best courses of treatment for sprains. In case of a slightly more severe sprain, the physician will recommend the use of a brace to help support and immobilize a sprained part of the body.
If the sprain is very severe, your physician may advise immediate surgery. This could be due to soft tissue damage such as torn or ruptured muscles or ligaments, and fractures.
In the event of a fracture, a cast made of plaster or fiberglass is created to reposition the bones and help them heal.
How long does recovery take for sprains, strains, and fractures?
In case of mild to moderate strains and sprains, complete recovery happens between 3 to 8 weeks. Severe cases can take up to a year along with rehabilitation. If you have had a grade 3 strain, after surgery, 3 months of rehabilitation along with rest for up to a year is often recommended.
If you have had a fracture, the recovery time varies depending on the location of the fracture. Most heal within 8 weeks. Hand and wrist fractures heal between 4 and 6 weeks; however, a fracture of the tibia may take upwards of 20 weeks.
The healing or recovery time post a fracture can be divided as:
- Inflammatory phase – starts from the injury time to 2 weeks after.
- Repair phase – the actual tissue repair happens.
- Remodelling – a strong bone replaces the fractured one. This takes months.
It is important to follow the advice of your physician during this time as rehabilitation and rest will play a crucial role in the speed at which recovery happens.
How can you prevent sprains, strains, and fractures?
Musculoskeletal injuries cannot always be prevented; however, some basic precautions can help reduce the possibility of incidence.
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Exercise regularly
- Follow a nutritious diet
- Stretch before you exercise
- Follow correct ergonomics
- Use appropriate footwear
- Warm-up before sports and heavy exercises and cool down after
- Include calcium and Vitamin D in your diet
Call Prime Urgent Care at 713-340-3111 for more information.
- What is the difference between a sprain, a strain, and a fracture?
A sprain occurs when a ligament, or the tissue that connects bones, stretches. A strain is classified as an injury to a muscle or a tendon, tissue that attaches the muscles to the bones. The strain can be caused by stretching, twisting, or pulling of the muscle or tendon. When a bone(s) in the body cracks or breaks completely, the injury is classified as a fracture. Fractures occur in the bone because bones are rigid structures that can break when there is any external pressure, trauma, or injury.
- What is the best treatment for a muscle strain?
The very first step in the treatment of a muscle strain is the protocol of RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
- How long do strains take to heal?
In case of mild to moderate strains and sprains, complete recovery happens between 2 to 8 weeks. Severe cases can take up to a year along with rehabilitation.
- Can a muscle tear heal on its own?
Mild to moderate tears can heal with a simple protocol of RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation within 2 to 8 weeks.
- What is the first aid treatment for a strain?
The very first step in the treatment in case of a muscle strain is the protocol of RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
- How long does it take for a fracture to heal?
If you have had a fracture, the recovery time varies depending on the location of the fracture. Most heal within 6-8 weeks.