Strain vs. Sprain and does RICE really work?

At some point in your training, you are likely to get either a strain or sprain…which are very common in ankles and wrists.  It may be a result from over-use, running a race or twisting your ankle in those Jimmy Choos. So, how do you recover? RICE! No…you don’t have to sit around all weekend with your foot covered in wild rice. What is RICE and how do you know if it’s a sprain and not a sprain??

What is a Sprain?

A Sprain occurs when tendons (tough fibers that connect bones to other bones) are stretched and pulled away from the muscles. Tendons are important because they effect joint and muscle stability and are found in our ankles, wrist, elbows, shoulders and most other places where we bend or move our limbs. So, when you get a sprain…it’s usually because you fell, twisted or maybe had an object or outside force placed or dropped on you. When this happens, your joint moves in an unnatural way (like when you trip) and the tendon gets stretched and pulled. It causes pain, swelling and sometimes a bruise. Example: Falling or twisting your ankle during a 10k.

What is a Strain?

A Strain occurs when the tendons (bands at the end of muscles that connect muscles to bones) get stretched or pulled away from your bones. These can also happen sudden as a result of a fall or twist, but more likely they happen over time as a result of over-using the muscles. Think tennis elbow (when tendinitis occurs) or sometimes in runners with hamstring issues. Over time, the tendons get stretched and pulled away from the muscles as a result of contractions and movements. A strain usually causes muscle weakness, muscle spasms and sometimes pain. Example: Tennis elbow.


Sprain= ligaments, twisting or falling, causes swelling and maybe bruise

Strain= tendons, overuse, causes weakness and spasm

What is RICE?

RICE stands for : Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Most people know when they injure themselves, they need to apply ice to reduce swelling but then they stop at that. If you follow through with the rest of the RICE treatment, you will recover a lot faster and you can use it for both strains and sprains. Just repeat the RICE treatment (in that order) a few times a day.

You want to start by resting your injured area and take a few days off from your workouts. The ice part is crucial to reduce pain and inflammation. Place a bag of ice (a bag of frozen veggies will do the trick) on the area for 5 minutes and then take it off for 1 minute and repeat for up to 20 minutes at a time. You never want to ice the area for longer than 20 minutes or you could damage your skin and tissues. Compression also really helps to keep your area stable (especially with a sprain) and can also reduce swelling. A simple ACE bandage will work, but I like to use this Nexcare adhesive one that doesn’t require any pins: 

I recently found a Target brand one that comes in purple too! The last step is elevation. This might be hard to do if it’s your ankle..but try to keep it elevated, even just for an hour or two a day to prevent swelling.

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