First, Second & Third Degree Sprains & Strains

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By Dr. Stefanie Yao
Published on September 1, 2013

Learn how to treat a sprain or strain.

Difference Between First, Second & Third Degree Sprains

Strains and sprains tend to be classified by degree of severity ranging from first to third degree. The differences in degrees reflect the degree of overstretching or damaging force applied to the tendon, muscle or ligament.

  • First Degree Sprain – mild stretching of ligaments. Pain maybe mild with mild dysfunction of the tissue or body part and minimal to no swelling
  • Second Degree Sprain – stretching and partial tearing of fibers in the ligament but the joint is still held together and is stable. There maybe pain, swelling, bruising and moderate dysfunction of the tissue or body part.
  • Third Degree Sprain – complete tear or rupture of the ligament with an unstable joint, this is characterized by severe pain, bruising and loss of function of the body part affected. Third degree sprains may require surgery and immobilization.

Difference Between First, Second & Third Degree Strains

  • First Degree Strains occur due to mild straining of muscle fibers where a few fibers have been stretched or torn – micro-tears. Muscles will be painful and tender but mobility should be normal.
  • Second Degree Strains tend to have a greater number of fibers stretched or torn. Pain tends to be more severe along with tenderness and mild swelling and bruising.
  • Third Degree Strains occur when muscles have been split or torn away from the tendon leading to loss of function of the affect muscle. Like third degree sprains a third degree strain may require surgery to repair.

Treating a Sprain or Strain:

To be safe, it is important with sprains and strains to be assessed, treated and managed with care from a chiropractor, physiotherapist or medical doctor along with proper home-care instructions of rest, ice, compression, and elevation… remember RICE!

Given that no one is safe from having a sprain or strain there are some tips to help reduce your risk of injury such as making sure you are stretching and warmed up before doing any strenuous activity, work or lifting. Also, making sure your body is conditioned properly with regular strengthening and conditioning exercises to build muscle strength can be beneficial to help prevent risks of strain or sprain.

Check out Part I to learn about Differences, Causes and Symptoms!