Sprain and strain: What are the differences?

ankle injury

Sprains and strains are both terms that relate to injury to the soft tissues of the body, which include ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Sprains are more common than strains. They are frequent injuries that have certain symptoms in common but affect various sections of the body in distinct ways. Sprains and strains are frequently treatable at home.

A sprain is a ligament that has been overstretched, torn, or twisted. A ligament is a thick band of fibrous tissue that links bones to other bones or cartilage. It is responsible for the stability of joints. Ligaments are typically seen in the vicinity of joints. Wrists, ankles, thumbs, and knees are some of the most often sprained joints.

A strain is a tendon or muscle that has been overstretched, ripped, or twisted. A tendon is a strong cord of fibrous tissue that links muscles to bones and serves as a link between them. Legs, knees, foot, and the back are among the most commonly strained regions.

Symptoms of Sprain and strain

ankle injury
Sprains commonly occur in the joints, such as the ankle, and are quite painful.

A sprain is a type of injury that occurs suddenly around a joint. Depending on how many tissue fibers are injured, the severity of the symptoms might range from moderate to severe. Among the signs and symptoms are:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • limited movement around the joint
  • inability to put weight on the joint or use it normally
  • a “popping” sensation at the time of the injury

A strain can emerge immediately as well as over time, although it is more common for it to build gradually. Among the signs and symptoms are:

  • pain or tenderness
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • muscle spasms or cramping
  • muscle weakness
  • limited movement in the area

Causes of strains

Acute strains can occur as a result of running or repeated movements.

Strains can manifest themselves immediately (acutely) or grow steadily over time (chronic).

Acute strains can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • slipping or falling
  • lifting a heavy object
  • running, jumping, or throwing

Chronic strains can be caused by participating in sports and activities that require repetitive movements, such as rowing, tennis, or jogging, among others. Chronic strains can also be caused by sitting or standing in an uncomfortable position for an extended length of time.

Causes of sprains

The most common causes of sprains include falling, twisting, or being subjected to stress to the affected joint. These sorts of injuries may force the joint to move beyond of its usual range of motion, causing the ligament to rupture or strain as a result.

The following are examples of situations that might result in a sprain:

  • falling and landing on the wrist or hand
  • injuries from contact sports
  • walking or running on an uneven surface
  • twisting or pivoting suddenly
  • playing racquet sports


If you suffer from either a sprain or a strain, it is critical that you follow the four-step RICE procedure to help reduce swelling and alleviate pressure on the afflicted area:

RICE is an abbreviation for:

  • Rest:Put an end to any exercise or physical activity, and avoid putting any weight on the limb that has been injured.
  • Ice: Apply ice on the injury for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours for a total of 4 to 6 hours. If people do not have access to ice packs, they can utilize bags of frozen vegetables.
  • Compression: A person might use a bandage or trainer’s tape to wrap the afflicted region to assist minimize swelling. If the region becomes numb or if the discomfort becomes unbearable, loosen the bandage.
  • Elevation: Keep the injured area raised above chest level if possible.

Over-the-counter drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin IB or Advil) can also be used to alleviate discomfort and swelling in the knee joint.

When should you visit a doctor?

If a person has any of the following symptoms as a result of a strain or sprain, they should seek medical attention.

  • difficulty walking or standing without pain
  • pain and swelling that gets worse over time
  • numbness or tingling in the affected area
  • fever or chills
  • pain and swelling that does not improve with home treatment
  • limited movement and flexibility around the joint or affected area
  • a deformity or symptoms of instability of the joint/extremity

Preventive tips

Stretching before exercising
Prevent sprains and strains by stretching before exercise may be beneficial.

People can help to prevent sprains and strains by:

  • Take breaks: Excessive muscular stress can be caused by sitting or standing in one posture for an extended period of time or by doing repetitive movements. People can take regular pauses and stretch their muscles to help them feel better.
  • Wear appropriate footwear: Shoes that provide enough support can aid in the protection of the ankle and knee joints.
  • Warm up properly before exercise: Warming up the muscles helps to expand their range of motion while also reducing the risk of injury and damage to the connective tissue.
  • Be aware of your environment: Injury prevention may be accomplished by keeping an eye out for slippery or uneven surfaces, as well as impediments that may cause an accident.
  • Strengthening muscles around joints: Conditioning and stability exercises performed on a regular basis can assist to establish a strong skeletal foundation and reduce the risk of injury.

Although not all sprains or strains are avoidable, people can minimize the risk of lasting injury or problems by following the recommended aftercare procedures.


It should take between 2 and 1 week for mild to severe strains and sprains to recover completely. Following this, it is critical to ensure that the afflicted body part is properly supported in order to prevent additional harm.

Sprains and strains that are severe may require more time to recover. For example, in some circumstances, a person may find it beneficial to consult a physical therapist to restore their range of motion.


  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sprains-and-strains/
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321807
  • https://medlineplus.gov/sprainsandstrains.html
  • http://www.sja.org.uk/sja/first-aid-advice/bones-and-muscles/strains-and-sprains.aspx