The Difference Between a Strain and a Sprain

What is the difference between a strain and a sprain?

As you recall that we talked about muscles, tendons and ligaments, OH MY! in last weeks email. This week we will go over how these soft tissues play a role in commonly diagnosed injuries in our canine companions, simply called sprains and strains. Or, as we will refer to them in this article, a sprain/strain injury.

A lot of time an injury is not solely a sprain or a strain but a combination of muscles, tendons and ligaments. The term “sprain/strain” is commonly used in human chiropractic care although I don’t see or hear it much with our dogs. But just know all of our soft tissues work together as a team and in most cases all of them are damaged to some extent with any injury. As you will see, evaluation and treatment is the same for either a sprain or strain.

A sprain is a specific type of soft tissue injury that affects the ligaments in the body. Ligaments are tough, fibrous bands of connective tissue that connect bone to bone and provide stability to joints. When a sprain occurs, it typically involves the stretching or tearing of one or more ligaments.

A strain is a soft tissue injury that affects muscles or tendons in the body. Keep in mind TENDONS = STRAIN, the “T’s” go together. Tendons are dense, fibrous connective tissues that connect muscle to bone.. Strains occur when the muscle fibers or tendons are stretched or torn due to excessive force, overuse, or repetitive motion.

In animals, muscles are responsible for movement and are connected to bones by tendons, which are strong connective tissues. When a strain occurs, it usually involves damage to these structures. The injury can range from mild stretching and microscopic tearing of muscle fibers or tendons to more severe tears. Strains in animals are often classified into two main categories: A muscle strain that involves injury to the muscle fibers themselves. Or a tendon strain, resulting in conditions such as tendinitis or tendinosis, which involve damage or inflammation of the tendons.

Veterinary medicine often uses a grading scale to assess the severity of a sprain/strain in an animal. The grading scale helps to classify the sprain/strain based on the extent of ligament or tendon damage and can guide treatment decisions. It typically includes three grades of mild (Grade I), moderate (Grade II) and severe (Grade III).

Animals with sprain/strain may exhibit various signs and symptoms, including lameness or limping, pain, swelling, and reluctance to use the affected limb. The severity of these signs depends on the extent of the soft tissue damage.

Veterinary professionals typically diagnose sprain/strains through a combination of physical examination, observation of clinical signs, and sometimes advanced imaging techniques like X-rays or ultrasound or MRI. These diagnostic methods help determine the location and severity of the injury.

Treatment for a sprain/strain in animals may involve a multifaceted approach, similar to human medicine. It may include: rest, pain management, chiropractic care, massage and/or physical therapy, braces and in severe cases, surgery.

The prognosis for an animal with a sprain/strain depends on factors such as the location and severity of the injury, the species, the breed and age of the animal, and the timely initiation of appropriate treatment. With proper care, that includes chiropractic care, many animals can recover well from sprain/strains and regain normal limb function.