Have you been in an car accident? Are you experiencing neck or back pain? Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with a cervical, thoracic or lumbar strain/sprain. What is the difference between the types of sprains and strains?
A sprain is a stretching or tearing of the ligaments in the area. Ligaments are the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect two bones together in your joints. The most common location for a sprain is the ankle. A strain is the stretching or tearing or muscle or tendon. A tendon is the fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones. Both sprains and strains are soft tissue injuries. Confusing, huh?
A cervical spine or neck is the most mobile segment of the spine. This mobility makes it susceptible to strain or injury. This injury is often referred to as whiplash. Although similar a cervical sprain is different than a cervical strain. A cervical sprain is caused by tearing, twisting or stretching of the ligaments while a cervical strain is caused by damage to the muscles or tendons. Symptoms of whiplash can be hard to ignore. These may include pain, decreased range of motion of the neck and tightness in the neck. You will likely have pain or tenderness when you turn your head to look over your shoulder, and headaches are common that begin at the base of the skull and radiate toward the forehead, regardless of the types of sprains and strains.
A thoracic spine refers to the upper and middle parts of the back. It connects with the cervical spine and extends down about five inches past the bottom of the shoulder blades where it connects with the lumbar spine or lower back. The lumbar spine has 5 intervertebral (between the vertebrae) segments labeled 1 through 5. The vertebrae are the small bones forming the backbone. Thoracic and lumbar sprains and strains cause pain and spasm in the area and it is often difficult to bend or twist.
Treatment for all three of these sprains/strains is relatively similar and depends on the severity of the injury. Most soft tissue injuries are graded on a scale from 1st degree to 3rd degree. First degree sprains are mild with little or no pain or other symptoms. 2nd degree sprains can cause pain, muscle spasm and possibly some joint instability. 3rd degree sprains usually result from a complete tear or the ligament producing severe pain and joint stability.
Strains are graded in the same fashion with a 1st degree being mild causing little pain, 2nd degree causing some pain and loss of strength, and 3rd degree involving complete tears of the muscles and tendons with complete loss of muscle function. In addition to pain, instability and weakness there may also be tenderness and swelling.
Treatment for all of the above generally includes decreased activity, ice for the first 48 hours and then heat thereafter, used of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and pain relievers. Physical therapy may be recommended with targeted exercises to strengthen the back. Although limited activity is recommended initially it should NOT be prolonged!