Sprains vs. Strains

Sprains vs. strains

Sprains and strains are very common injuries that can occur from falling, twisting, lifting, or being involved in an accident. Learn more about the difference between these injuries, and how they’re treated.

What’s the difference between a sprain and a strain?

Your body has many muscles, ligaments and tendons that hold joints together and allow you to move. A ligament holds two bones together. Tendons connect muscle to bone and allow for movement to occur.

  • A sprain is injury to a ligament due to stretching and/or tearing
  • A strain is injury to of a muscle or a tendon (easy to remember since the word “strain” has a “T” in it to remind you of tendon)


Are they common and how do they occur?

Sprains and strains are very common injuries in all age groups that can occur from falling, twisting, lifting, getting hit or being involved in car accidents.


What are the symptoms of a sprain or strain?

Signs of sprains and strains can include any of the following either alone or in combination:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Muscle spasm
  • Inflammation
  • Cramping

Some sprains or strains can be severe enough to actually cause ripping of the ligament, muscle or tendon and thus urgent medical care should be sought.


How are muscle sprains and ligament strains treated?

  • Treatment for sprains and strains should start with basic rest, ice, compression, and elevation if there is swelling
  • Urgent X-rays may be needed as initial tests in certain cases, since the ligaments, tendons and muscles are damaged in such injuries, which could lead to fractures and may even require surgery
  • The doctor may also wrap joints with an ACE bandage or even apply a splint to keep the joint stable for healing to occur
  • Usually anti-inflammatory medications are helpful in such conditions, and some cases may benefit from muscle relaxants as well
  • A physician can also determine whether further tests such as MRI may be needed or a referral to a specialist
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