Sprains occur when joints are pushed past their normal range of motion. This results in the surrounding ligaments being stretched or torn. Most commonly we see ankle sprains, for example when an athlete "rolls" the ankle resulting in an injury to the lateral (outside) ligaments. But, sprains can occur in any joint- knee, shoulder, knuckle etc...
Signs and symptoms may include pain, swelling, discoloration, disability and possibly deformity. While most sprains can be treated at home (See RICE below) it is recommended to seek medical advice for a first time injury, if signs and symptoms do not improve, or if your gut tells you it's a good idea.
Strains, also know as a "pulled muscle" occur when muscles and tendons are pushed beyond their normal limits. This results in a stretching or tearing of the muscle and tendon fibers. Strains can occur in any muscle. The most common muscles affected in athletics are the large muscles of the leg (Quadricep, Hamstrings, Gastrocnemius) and the Trunk (abdominal and lower back).
Signs and symptoms may include pain or soreness, and in extreme cases you may see discoloration or disability. If a deformity is present (i.e. the muscle has rolled up on itself) seek medical attention immediately.
In most cases strains can be treated at home (See RICE below). It is important to note that while "heat" may feel like good choice for a strain it should be avoided for the first 72 hours after injury.
Prevention: Most strains can be prevented by maintaining an appropriate strength/flexibility balance, a proper warm-up, and quality nutrition.
Cramping typically occurs when an athlete becomes dehydrated which also includes an imbalance in electrolytes (salt, potassium etc..). An improper fluid balance in the body results in the muscles not being able to properly contract and relax as needed. The result is a prolonged contraction (cramp) that can be extremely painful and debilitating. Often there is a visible "mound" where the muscle is cramping or it can be palpated (felt).
Prevention includes proper hydration and conditioning. Treatment involves massage and stretching to get the muscle to relax. Treatment should be quick as cramping of the muscle affects it's oxygen supply and can result in damage to the tissue even after the injury resolves. It is normal for the athlete to experience some soreness up to 48 hours after a severe muscle cramp.
Myth: Eat a banana and it will go away. While bananas are a great source of potassium and a perfect addition to the athlete's diet... no amount of bananas, water, or pickle juice is going to make the cramping stop once it has started.
As mentioned above- most common athletic injuries can be treated at home with R.I.C.E.
- Rest. Avoid activities that cause pain, swelling or discomfort.
- Ice. Even if you're seeking medical help, ice the area immediately. Use an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes and repeat every two to three hours while you're awake, for the first 48 to 72 hours. Cold reduces pain, swelling and inflammation in injured muscles, joints and connective tissues. It also may slow bleeding if a tear has occurred. If the area turns white, stop treatment immediately. This could indicate a cold injury. If you have vascular disease, diabetes or decreased sensation, talk with your doctor before applying ice.
- Compression. To help stop swelling, compress the injury with an elastic bandage until the swelling stops. Don't wrap it too tightly or you may hinder circulation. Begin wrapping at the end farthest from your heart. Loosen the wrap if the pain increases, if the area becomes numb or if swelling occurs below the wrapped area.
- Elevation. To reduce swelling, elevate your injury above the level of your heart, especially at night. Gravity helps reduce swelling by draining excess fluid.