A sprain is an injury to a ligament caused by a sudden overstretching. Conversely, a strain happens when overstretching occurs in the muscle or tendon. The severity of the sprain or strain dictates the type of treatment the patient will need and how long it will take to recover. When such an injury occurs, a trained medical professional can determine the best treatment.
In the worst sprains or strains, surgery is required to repair the injury, which can leave the patient recovering for a significant amount of time. The best way to diagnose either injury is to undergo a diagnostic imaging test called an MRI, which allows a medical professional to see the full extent of the injury. After the diagnosis, the usual treatment is a method known as the RICE method: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Additionally, a doctor might suggest physical therapy to reduce swelling and help the patient regain the full range of motion that existed before the injury.
If surgery is not required, the average recovery time is from two to four weeks. Common symptoms of a sprain are pain, swelling, bruising and a general inability to move or use the affected area. Symptoms of a strain are similar but also can include muscle spasms and muscle cramping. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help reduce pain and inflammation.