What to Do (and Not Do) When You Have a Sprain or a Strain

Stretching strained ankle


During the holidays, there is an increase in injuries such as sprains and strains while people are decorating their homes. We want to make sure that as Disney Cast Members and Employees, you know the differences between the two so you are spending more time with your families during the holidays and less time at the doctor!


A sprain occurs when a ligament is stretched or torn. It’s common to feel a pop or tear when this happens. A strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon (tissue connecting muscle to the bone).


The good news is: You can sometimes treat the pain of strains and sprains at home. However, we checked in with Holly Myers, physical therapist at Florida Hospital, to determine when you need to seek out a medical professional, and what you can do to strengthen your muscles in your feet, ankles and any other affected areas. Here’s what she had to say:


What areas are the most at-risk for sprains and strains?

 The areas of your body most vulnerable to sprains are your ankles, knees and wrists. As strains go, those areas are your shoulders, legs (think hamstrings) and back.


What’s the most common cause of sprains and strains?

 Sprains and strains can happen in a variety of circumstances. Everything from overuse injuries (working out/playing sports too long without proper rest) to twisting/pulling something to sustaining an unfortunate fall can lead to a sprain or strain.


How do they occur?

 A sprained ankle can occur when your foot turns inward, placing extreme tension on the ligaments of your outer ankle. A sprained knee may be the result of a sudden twist, and a sprained wrist can occur when you fall on an outstretched hand.


A strain can occur similarly to a sprain, where it may be a simple stretch in your muscle or tendon; or it may be a partial or complete tear in your muscle/tendon connection.


What are the signs of a sprain?

 Signs and symptoms of sprains include:

• Pain

• Swelling

• Bruising

• Decreased range of motion


What are the signs of a strain?

• Pain

• Inflammation

• Muscle spasm, cramping or weakness

• Bruising (either immediately or a few days later)


Sprained Ankle


Can you care for a sprain or strain at home, or should a medical professional look at the injury?

There are things that you can do in the first 24 to 48 hours to help alleviate pain and begin the healing process. You should rest, protect the injured area, use crutches or other assistive devices as needed to help immobilize, compress (not too tight), elevate, and apply ice 15 to 20 minutes or at least every 2 hours.


If you don’t see any improvement in a couple of days, you should see a medical professional to evaluate the extent of your injury.


How are sprains and strains diagnosed?

Most sprains and strains are diagnosed by a physical exam. Your medical professional will exam the affected joint or muscles and take them through their normal range of motion, watching for pain, tenderness, weakness or instability.


If there’s a chance you’ve broken a bone, an X-ray may be ordered.  Magnetic resonance imaging may be needed to determine the extent of your injury because soft tissue, where sprains and strains occur, don’t show up on X-rays.


How long does a sprain or strain usually take to heal?

 It varies based on the severity of your injury and how much you’re still using the area after the injury. Recovery ranges from a couple of days to a few weeks.


Preventing sprains and strains

 Regular stretching and strengthening exercises can help minimize your risks of sprains and strains and improve motion in all areas of the body.


Progressive strengthening exercises allow you to better stabilize yourself during activity. Balancing exercises train your body to know where it is in space and reduce your injury rate.


If you think it’s something more serious than a strain or sprain, make sure you contact your Personal Physician. If you don’t have one yet, Contact the Member Experience Center. With one call, we can help you find a physician and get you scheduled right away. Call (855) 747-7476 today!

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