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Sprains and Strains

Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment
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The team of orthopedic doctors and therapists at Hand to Shoulder Center are here to diagnose and treat hand, finger, wrist, elbow, forearm, and shoulder sprains and strains. Contact Hand to Shoulder Center of Wisconsin in Appleton or Green Bay, WI today to learn more about how our orthopedic specialist can help you.

What Are Sprains and Strains?

The terms sprain and strain are often used interchangeably; however, they are not the same injury. A sprain involves ligaments. Ligaments are tough, fibrous tissue that connects one end of a bone to another which adds stability and support to the joint. When a direct trauma occurs, the ligaments can become stretched, torn or ruptured caused by the joint being knocked out of position. 

A strain, also referred to as a “pulled muscle” involves tendons and/or muscles. Tendons are rope-like tissues that connect muscle to bone. When a strain occurs, the muscles and/or tendons are overstretched or torn. Strains commonly develop from overuse, fatigue or improper use of the muscles. They can occur anywhere in the body; however, the back, neck, hamstrings and shoulders are the most common regions to be affected.

Symptoms of Strains and Sprains

Symptoms of a sprain may include: bruising, swelling, pain and limited movement of the affected joint. In some cases, depending on the severity of the sprain, individuals may hear or feel a “pop” when the injury occurs.

With a strain, the symptoms range from sudden onset of pain with soreness, swelling, muscle spasms and possible bruising or discoloration. Additional symptoms may include stiffness, limited range of movement and a “knotted-up” feeling in the affected muscle.

Sprains and strains can occur at any age; at Hand to Shoulder Center of Wisconsin, our orthopedic surgeons treat all upper extremity sprains and strains. Such injuries include strained and/or sprained fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders.

Diagnosis and Treatment

In diagnosing sprains and strains, our subspecialty-trained orthopedic surgeons conduct a thorough examination. Review of medical history is discussed along with a physical and visual evaluation. Swelling and points of tenderness are explored along with the intensity of the pain to help determine the extent and nature of the injury. Upper extremity movements and bending of the joints will help to confirm the level of the injury and pinpoint which muscles, tendons and/or ligaments are involved.

Treatment is base on the extent of the injury. Typically, rest, elevation, ice, and immobilization will be recommended. More complex injuries may require x-rays, advanced imaging, and in some cases, surgical treatment.

In most cases, diagnosing a sprain or strain is confirmed based on the physician’s examination, although x-rays may be ordered to rule out a fracture. On occasion, imaging testing such as a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may be ordered to help diagnose the extent of the injury or to rule out other conditions and diseases.Strains, such as a mild bicep strain at the elbow are often treated with compression, ice, and rest. In a more severe case where there is a disruption of the biceps tendon limiting ability to bend the elbow; surgery may be required to restore function to the joint. Deformity may also be present.


During the time of rehabilitation, a physical or occupational therapist will perform hands-on techniques to aid in restoring pain-free range of motion, normal joint function along with increasing strength. Modalities such as ultrasound and heat/ice are often used to help control pain, facilitate motion and control swelling. Early rehabilitation treatment protocols often include a home exercise program to encourage range of motion and flexibility. The duration of recovery time will vary depending on the severity of the condition and the patient’s willingness to conduct home exercises. Typically, in mild strains and sprains, normal activities return within three to six weeks. In more severe cases, recovery time may take six to eight weeks of occupational or physical therapy to optimize range of motion and strengthen the repaired tissue and joint.


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