A Sprain or a Strain? Here’s How to Tell

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Update Date 12/06/2020 . 4 mins read
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Sprain and strain are both often caused by doing repetitive and strenuous physical activities such as exercising. That is why differentiating the two can be confusing. Knowing their differences will make it easier for you to determine whether you have a sprained ankle or a pulled muscle.

What is the Difference Between a Sprain and a Strain?

A sprain happens when there is an abnormal stretching or tearing of ligaments. Ligaments are elastic fibrous connective tissues that connect your bones. The ankles and wrists are the most common locations for a sprain.

A strain, on the other hand, is the tearing and overstretching of muscle or tendon. Tendons are fibrous tissues that attach a muscle to a bone. The back and hamstring strains are the most most common examples of this injury. This injury is common for athletes who insufficiently stretch and do not adequately condition before a sports event.

What Are the Symptoms of a Sprain and Strain?

The symptoms of both a sprain and a strain are

  • Pain in the joints
  • Swelling
  • Limited flexibility
  • difficulty in moving

Their symptoms are very similar. Thus, there may be difficulty in recognizing what injury a person has.

Anyone is susceptible to these kinds of injuries, no matter the age or sex. Vigilance and cautiousness are two critical factors in making sure that you avoid injury.

How fast recovery depends on the person, the kind of treatment or medications, and the type of injury.

What Causes Sprains and Strains?

To identify if an injury is a sprain or a strain, one must know what caused it.

Sprains affect the wrists, ankles, knees, and even fingers. Here are some frequent causes of sprains:

  • A misstep causing you to trip awkwardly, e.g., walking on an uneven surface or going down the stairs.
  • A bad landing, during a stunt like jumping
  • Body rotation or pivot
  • Landing on your hands with full force
  • Repetitive motions that exert too much force

Strains, on the other hand, frequently affect the muscular areas of the body, such as the back and the hamstring. The cause of a strain may be due to:

  • Lifting of heavy objects the wrong way or in a quick motion
  • Lack of proper warm-up before any physically demanding activities
  • Exerting too much force when pushing or pulling
  • Just like a sprain, a strain can be caused by doing the same taxing movement repeatedly

What Treatments Are Available for Strains and Sprains? 

Giving immediate attention to injuries like sprains and strains can help prevent the symptoms from worsening. The following treatments can help manage and relieve pain brought about by mild-to-moderate sprain or strain.

  • Rest the injured part. If you have gone to the hospital for your injury, the doctor may suggest that you rest for a few days. After this, you should be able to do minor movements, maybe with the help of crutches or a cane.
  • Apply ice on the injury. For 20 minutes, put ice wrapped in a towel on the injured part for four to 8 times a day to reduce inflammation.
  • Use compression. Using either bandages, casts, boots, or splints to wrap the injured part will help reduce the swelling. Avoid tightly wrapping the injury as it may hinder blood flow.
  • Elevate the injured area. Elevation reduces swelling. Your doctor may advise you to rest your injured body part on top of a pillow to relieve pain and for faster recovery.
  • Take pain medications. Your doctor may prescribe pain medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin for pain relief, as well as for swelling.

After the treatments, your physician may suggest that you gently exercise the injured area to prevent stiffness and to restore strength. If you have serious injuries, physical therapy can help you bounce back.

For the best treatment and therapy, always seek professional help from doctors or physical therapists to prevent further injury and complications.

How Can You Prevent Sprains and Strains? 

You can prevent sprains and strains from happening by following these steps:

  • Condition your body, do warm-ups, and stretch before engaging in any physical activity.
  • Wear protective gear when doing sports or when lifting/carrying heavy materials.
  • Sit in an ice bath after playing any contact sports like rugby, football, and basketball.
  • Wear shoes that are suitable for running and make sure it’s comfortable as well.
  • Avoid pushing yourself from doing difficult physical tasks when feeling tired.
  • Do strengthening exercises to improve overall body strength.
  • Do not forget to cool down after an intense workout.
  • Be aware of your surroundings to avoid accidents.
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet for a strong body.
  • Practice good posture.
  • Be physically fit.

Do not hesitate to contact your physician for additional information and advice about sprain and strain prevention.


All kinds of injuries are painful, and some may even lead to permanent damage to the body. A sprain and a strain are usually not life-threatening. However, it may cause issues with mobility. If neglected, these injuries can become a big problem.

Being aware of the difference between sprains and strains can you help seek the right treatments and medications to address your condition.

Keep in mind that it is always best to call your local emergency hotline when dealing with serious injuries.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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