Sprains and Strains

Sprains and strains are common injuries and occur most frequently in people who participate in sports, perform repetitive activities, or are at-risk for falls. Sprains involve the tissues, or ligaments that connect bones together. While strains involve a group of tissues, muscles and tendons that connect muscles to bones. Although mild sprains and strains can heal with rest and home care, significant sprains and strains will require rehabilitation, surgery, or both.

Sprain Causes

A sprain refers to an injury to a ligament that connects two bones. In other words, a ligament can stretch or tear if the bones in a joint move out of position from a force, such as a fall or brute contact.

Strain Causes

A strain describes an injury to the actual muscle or tendon, itself. Similarly to a sprain, muscles and tendons can be injured from a variety of instances, such as:

  • Overuse
  • Overstretching
  • Repetitive Motions
  • Sports Injury
  • By a Direct Force

Sprain Symptoms

A sprain can cause pain, bruising, and swelling. You may even hear or feel a pop when the injury occurs. A severe sprain can cause intense pain at the time of injury. This is often followed by difficulty moving a joint.

Strain Symptoms

A strain causes muscle pain, weakness, cramping, spasm, or swelling, similarly to a sprain.  Although uncommon, moderate to severe sprains can result in the muscle tearing.

Sprain or Strain Diagnosis

A doctor can normally diagnose a sprain or strain by physical examination.  X-rays may be ordered to rule out a fracture.

Sprain or Strain Treatment

You should elevate your joint and apply cold packs to prevent swelling. The sooner you can do this, the better. If you do seek medical treatment, the doctor will give you a treatment plan based on the severity and degree of your injury. Sometimes physical therapy is recommended, and with more significant sprains and strains, it may require surgery or immobilization with a brace or splint for healing.

Am I at Risk for a Sprain or Strain?

You may be at risk for strains and strains if:

  • You’re deconditioned
  • You’re overweight
  • You participate in sports, dance, or challenging physical activities
  • Your job duties require repetitive movements
  • You have experienced a strain or sprain before
  • You are at-risk for falls


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