Strains and Sprains
At Children’s Andrews Institute, our team of pediatric specialists offers a full range of non-invasive treatments for strains and sprains, including rehab with our in-house physical therapists.
Sprains and strains are common pediatric injuries — especially in children who play sports. There are several differences between the two conditions:
- Sprains: Sprains occur when ligaments (tissues that connect bones to each other) stretch or tear. The ankle is the most commonly sprained joint.
- Strains: Strains occur when muscles or tendons (tissues that connect muscles to bones) stretch or tear. Lower back muscles and the hamstring muscle in the back of the thigh are the most commonly strained muscles.
Mild strains and sprains usually get better with rest and with exercises that strengthen the injured area. When a strain or sprain is severe, we may recommend surgery to repair the torn ligaments, tendons or muscles. Our surgeons specialize in a minimally invasive approach.
Symptoms of Strains and Sprains
Common signs and symptoms of strains and sprains may include:
- Warmth or redness
- Limited range of motion in the injured joint or muscle
Diagnosing Strains and Sprains
Most strains and sprains are diagnosed with a physical examination and a review of your child’s medical history. An imaging test may also help with diagnosis.
Diagnostic tests may include:
- X-ray: Uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to take detailed images of the bones of the affected area, checking for other injuries such as fractured bones
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan: Uses magnetic fields and radio waves to take detailed pictures of the affected joint, checking for tears in the ligaments, tendons, muscles and cartilage
Treating Strains and Sprains
Our expert orthopedic physicians can often treat strains and sprains without surgery. Treatment options are based on the injury’s severity and your child’s age and medical history.
Potential treatments include:
- Rest, ice, compression and elevation
- Activity modification
- Bandaging, splinting or casting
- In-house physical therapy and rehabilitation
In some cases, children with severe sprains or strains may require minimally invasive surgery to repair torn ligaments or damaged muscles and tendons. (Learn more about arthroscopy.)
Strains and Sprains Resources
Learn more about sprains and sprains in children:
- KidsHealth®: Strains and Sprains
Strains and Sprains FAQs
What are the risk factors for strains and sprains in children?
Anyone can strain a muscle or sprain a joint, though some children are at higher risk, including athletes who play sports with a lot of jumping, running or contact. To prevent strains and sprains, young athletes can benefit from warm-up activities, strength and conditioning exercises, and proper equipment.
Can I treat my child’s strain or sprain at home?
Mild strains and sprains can be treated at home initially. Use the RICE treatment approach — rest, ice, compression and elevation — for the first 48 hours:
- Rest: Rest the injured area
- Ice: Ice the injured area four to eight times per day, 20 minutes at a time
- Compression: Wrap the injured area with a compression bandage
- Elevation: Decrease swelling by elevating the injured area so it’s above heart level