Strains, sprains and bruises: discover the difference

Strains, sprains and bruises are some of the most frequent accidents we can stumble upon in daily life. Often, however, we are not sure how to set them apart and confuse a pulled muscle with a distortion. It’s not just a matter of vocabulary and labels: strains, bruises and sprains have different causes and – most importantly – require different remedies. Let’s find out what differences there are, and what to do in each case.

Sprains, the most painful case

Let’s start with the most “serious” case, relatively speaking. A sprain is a form of trauma to the joints, usually caused by wrong movements. The most common sprains occur at the ankle, wrist and shoulder. In any case, they are perhaps the most painful of accidents: they are caused by a bone being dislocated and immediately returning into its joint within our body. You can imagine it as a kind of shock, which in the most severe cases can go as far as causing damage to the ligaments that hold that part of our skeleton together.

For sprains, tight bandages and ice

Recognising a sprain is quite easy: in addition to the pain, you will notice localised swelling in the traumatised part, which you will hardly be able to move. Even in the case of milder sprains, it is good practice to apply a tight bandage, or even a compression bandage, and use specific reusable gel pads for cold therapy that can help the healing. Remember to keep the sprained limb at rest for a few days.

Bruises, the “human” collision

Compared to sprains, which usually follow awkward movements or bad ankle twists, bruises – also known as contusions – are traumas caused by bumping into something: classic “blows” to the knee, to the foot or to a muscle, for example. Bruises are the marks left by some kind of collision, and in general can be recognised because a hematoma appears in the area of the skin that hit something hard, such as the leg of a chair; this is the result of ruptured capillaries that circulate blood in the superficial tissues.

Ice and loose bandages for hematomas

The typical bruise hematoma looks like a spot: it’s reddish at first, then becomes purplish, and over time takes on a yellowish hue. In the most severe cases, the part affected by the contusion can swell and take on a darker colour. The first thing you can do is apply ice packs and possibly a loose bandage. There are also specific ointments on the market to treat these small traumas. However, unless the contusion affects areas at risk, such as the head or parts of the body near internal organs, there is no need to worry: hematomas spontaneously regress in a short time.

Strains, when the muscles stretch too far

Strains, finally, are the lightest of everyday small traumas. They affect the muscles and, just like sprains, are caused by wrong or unnatural movements. That’s exactly why they are called “muscle strains”: one or more of the bundles of muscle fibres that run across our body simply stretch too far. The pain is caused by a sudden shock in the muscle: the only remedies you can put in place are applying ice packs and resting the affected limb for a few days.

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