So what’s the difference between sprains and stains?

Sprains and strains both affect joints and soft tissues of the musculoskeletal system.

The signs of both injuries are very similar. These words are often used interchangeably. For some severe injuries though, it is useful to differentiate between them.

Both sprains and strains involve tearing of soft tissue associated with a joint.

A SPRAIN is an overstretched or torn ligaments. In humans, this often happens with the ankle.

A STRAIN involves a torn or overstretched muscle or tendon. For humans, hamstrings and back muscles are often affected.

If a sprain or strain is so severe that it results in the total disruption of a ligament, tendon or muscle, that is a rupture. Ruptures are bad news and almost always require surgery to allow healing. Most sprains and strains will heal with time, rest and therapy.


Signs your dog may have sprained something:

The main sign is lameness/limping. Often it is immediate and may occur during training or exercise. The limping may subside after the initial pain of the tear subsides, but it will them become worse as inflammation and swelling start to set in.

Sprains and strains display similar signs when injured.

Sprains and very often strains affect a joint.

Common signs indicating an affected joint:

  • Pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Limited flexibility or movement of the joint.
  • Reduced range of motion.

(Where there is a rupture or complete tear, there will an abnormal, excessive range of movement)

Additional signs of a sprain:

  • Bruising.
  • Additional signs of a strain:

Muscle spasm.


Strained muscles commonly occur in the following places in dogs:

Australian cattle dogs sharing kong

These injuries are probably poorly or underdiagnosed as they are not easily recognised. Very careful examination is needed to identify the affected muscle. This is sometimes not easy without the input of the patient unless we actually cause acute pain.

Sprained ligaments affect all joints.

Cruciate ligaments, medial collateral ligaments of the stifle, and ligaments of the digits and carpi are vulnerable and most common.

Diagnosis of sprains is easier than strains, as pain and a smaller range of movement can be observed. However, sprains of upper limb joints may be harder to detect and early signs of a cruciate ligament sprain may be difficult to diagnose with confidence.


What causes a sprain or strain to occur?

Sprains and strains occur when any muscle, tendon or ligament is stretched or torn be due to overstretching, repetitive strain on the tissues or twisting.

Strains and sprains are often exercise/training-induced and found mostly in working dogs and sporting dogs.

Don’t be fooled though! Pets who don’t get regular exercise may also suffer sprains and strains.

Here are some factors that that may predispose your dog to these types of injuries:


1. Weight

An overweight pet is generally an unfit pet. This extra weight will put much undue stress and tension on muscles and joints due to the extra load they have to carry. The extra stress placed on muscles that are not readily equipped to take the extra strain.  Soft tissues become injured more quickly under the extra strain.


2. Previous injuries

Any muscle, tendon or ligament which has been injured before would have healed but the healed tissue or scar tissue will be less flexible and not as strong compared to the original tissue. The healed tissue creates a weak area which is more prone to damage or injury. A recent injury is more predisposed to further damage if not properly assessed and managed.


3. Other injuries

Your dog will compensate by shifting his weight onto his other limbs when one of his legs are affected by a disorder of some sort. This imbalance will place extra stress on the soft tissue in those limbs, making injuries more likely. This holds true for and problems associated with the back and spine which would place unequal stresses on certain limbs.


4. Fitness

Unfit animals which suddenly take on vigorous exercise are at risk. Their muscles and joints don’t have the flexibility or resilience to cope with the extra demands of suddenly running around on a training field to perform various exercises.


5. Conformation irregularities

Changes from the normal development of a limb, which may be from birth (congenital) or from and injury, will put extra stress on soft tissues. These types of abnormalities remain for a long time an will place abnormal forces placed on soft tissue over time. This situation will eventually result in injury if not properly managed.

Examples of anatomical causes:

i. Misalignment of the stifle joint (knee) may lead to anterior cruciate ligament injuries

ii. Shallow patellar grooves can cause stretching and possibly rupture of the collateral patellar ligaments or a luxating patellar.

iii. Bowing of long bones of the legs puts abnormal forces on muscles and tendons

iv. Fractures which have not healed in perfect alignment will place abnormal forces on the muscles and joints associated with that limb.


6. Other disease processes

Some endocrine disorders (imbalance in hormones) may result in weaker muscles and tendons, making injuries more likely. Cushing’s syndrome is one example. One of the side effects of chronic corticosteroid overdose is muscle loss and weight gain. Long term treatment with corticosteroids will have the same effect.

Hypothyroidism will reduce fitness and muscle strength as well as cause weight gain making soft tissue injuries more likely.


Strains and sprains must not be taken lightly.

When a small sprain is ignored it can develop into a much bigger problem which then takes months to heal. The result is training down-time, vet bills and rehab costs.

Proper warmups and cool downs most certainly help to prevent these injuries along with a balances fitness and conditioning pre-hab programAt The Biokinetic K-9 an individualised fitness and conditioning program is designed around you, your dog and your activities, sport or work. Go visit them today!

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