Sprains and Strains in Children

What are sprains and strains in children?

Sprains and strains are types of injuries. A sprain is an injury to a ligament while a strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon.

Ligaments and tendons are 2 kinds of fibrous tissue in the body. They connect different parts of the body. Ligaments are found at the joints, where they join bones together. Tendons attach muscles to bone.

What causes sprains and strains in a child?

A sudden stretching, twisting, or tearing of a ligament causes a sprain. This injury can happen when a child falls or suffers a hit to the body. Sprains often affect the ankles, knees, or wrists.

A pulling or tearing of a muscle or a tendon causes a strain. This type of injury can happen suddenly, such as when a child overstretches a muscle. Or it can happen over time if a child overuses a muscle or tendon. Overuse can occur during activities that require similar movements be repeated over and over.

Which children are at risk for sprains and strains?

Active teens or those who play sports are most at risk for a sprain or a strain. These injuries are not common in younger children. That is because their growth plates are weaker than the muscles or tendons. Growth plates are areas of bone growth at the ends of long bones. Instead, younger children are more likely to have broken bones.

What are the symptoms of sprains and strains in a child?

Symptoms may occur a bit differently in each child. Symptoms of a sprain or a strain often depend on the severity of the injury. Below are the most common symptoms your child may feel in the injured area:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Warmth, bruising, or redness
  • Weakness
  • Trouble using or moving the injured area in a normal way

These symptoms may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How are sprains and strains diagnosed in a child?

Your child’s healthcare provider makes the diagnosis with a physical exam. During the exam, he or she asks about your child’s health history and how the injury happened.

Your child may also need:

  • X-rays. This test makes images of internal tissues, bones, and organs.
  • MRI. This test uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to make detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
  • CT scan. This test uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body. A CT scan shows details of the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.