Posts Tagged ‘Joint pain’

Sprains and Strains

sprains-and-strainsSprains and strains are injuries to the muscles, ligaments and tendons or ‘soft tissue’ of the body.

They usually occur during sports and exercise activities, but sometimes simple everyday activities can lead to a soft tissue injury.


A sprain is a stretch and/or tear of a ligament, (connective tissue that passes from one end of the bone to another) and/or the joint capsule. Ligaments stabilize joints and limit unwanted movements.

The areas of your body that are most vulnerable to sprains are your:

• ankles
• knees and
• wrists

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


A strain is an injury to a muscle and/or tendons.

Tendons are fibrous cords of tissue that attach muscles to the bone. During movement, muscles contract to perform an action. Excessive pressure or load on the muscles during these movements can damage muscle fibres and/or the tendons resulting in local bleeding, bruising, and pain.

Strains often occur in your:

• lower leg (calf muscles)
• upper leg (typically the hamstring)
• groin or
• back

Degrees of severity of a sprain or strain

Soft tissue injuries are graded according to their severity and include:

Grade I – some fibres are torn and the site is moderately painful and swollen, but function and strength are mostly unaffected.

Grade II – many fibres are torn and the site is painful and swollen, with some loss of function and strength. If a ligament is sprained there is usually some instability in the joint.

Grade III– the soft tissue is totally torn, with considerable loss of function and strength. If a ligament sprain there is usually significant instability in the joint. Grade III injuries often need surgical repair.

Symptoms of sprains and strains

While the intensity varies symptoms of sprains and strains include:

• Pain
• Bruising
• Swelling
• Inflammation
• Weakness of muscles or tendon
• Instability around the affected joint

Treatment for sprains and strains

Most soft tissue injuries will take 3-6 weeks to heal properly.

It is important to get the correct treatment as soon after the injury as possible to help recovery and reduce the risk of further injury. This is where physiotherapy can get you back to moving well again.

In the first 24 hours after injury:
• RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)
• Avoid exercise, alcohol and massage which can increase swelling.
• If symptoms become worse in the first 24 hours seek medical attention.

Mild to moderate sprains and strains
Treatments such as mobilisation and soft tissue therapy; bracing and electrotherapy can help you recover quicker. Exercise therapy to restore full strength and flexibility is an important part your treatment, particularly if you are returning to sport.

Severe sprains and strains
May require surgery. You will need a review and advice from a Sports Physician and/or Orthopaedic surgeon.

Does cold weather increase joint pain and stiffness?

There are plenty of people who report an increase in joint pain and stiffness in cold weather.

But is this fact or fiction?

Results of scientific studies to date are mixed.

From clinical observations I definitely see an increase in people presenting with joint pain during the colder months.

So what may be some of the contributing factors?

1. A Decrease in Barometric Pressure

Barometric pressure is the force exerted by the weight of the atmosphere. Some researchers have proposed that a drop in barometric pressure (which tends to accompany cooler, damper weather) could allow tissues in joints to swell and put pressure on nerves that control pain signals.

But other researchers suggest that this minor drop in barometric pressure in winter is unlikely to be significant enough to cause joint pain. It does seem to be possible at extremes of barometric pressure, like going to mountain tops or deep sea diving.

2. Amplification of pain signals from the joint

One theory with more scientific evidence behind it is the notion the cooler weather can amplify pain signals from affected joints to the brain.

So, for people with existing joint pain like arthritis, nerve signals travelling from the joint have been found to be amplified in the brain by signals carried on separate nerves called sympathetic nerves.

Sympathetic nerves are part of the body’s system for automatically maintaining its internal functioning. When it’s cold, these nerves constrict blood vessels in the limbs, to minimise heat loss and help keep the vital organs of the body warm.

However, the increased activation of these nerves around joints in response to cold weather might also lead to an increase in the pain a person feels.

3. A decrease in mobility

There are some factors that we can do something about – and mobility is one of them.

Shorter days and cooler temperatures make us less inclined to be as active as we are during the summer months. This increased immobility tends to make joint pain worse.


Being less mobile decreases nutrients and oxygen to the joints increasing the feeling of ‘stiffness’.

Similarly a decrease in movement, shorter amount of daylight and a bout of cold and/or flu can lead to a low mood which we know is linked to a higher level of perceived pain.

The best solution for joint pain is to get moving.

Not only does it increase much needed oxygen and nutrients to the joints, it also helps overcome the winter blues!