What Is The Difference Between A Strain And A Sprain?

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Both sprain and strain are injuries to the bones and muscles, and these words are often used interchangeably.  But it is important to know that these two types of musculo-skeletal injuries are different from each other. Let us discuss the differences between a strain and a sprain below.

Sprain versus Strain

Sprain injuries are caused by the tearing or stretching of the ligament, a kind of tissue that connects the bones to the joints. The main function of the joint is to provide stability and balance, so when the ligament is damaged or injured it can result to joint instability and pain. The symptoms of a sprain include inflammation or swelling, pain and inability to move the affected part (such as the legs, foot or arms). Sprains happen when too much force is received by the joints, such as when turning or twisting the body without moving the feet or when landing from a hard fall or on an awkward position.

Strains, on the other hand, are caused by tearing or over stretching of the muscles and tendons. Strain injuries involving the muscles and tendons usually happen at the part of the muscles that is connected to the tendons. These kind of injuries usually occur when the muscle is instantly stretched and then contracted, such as during jumping or running. The common site of injury of strains is in the hamstring muscles; runners are usually affected by it, especially when they are running at full speed. Similar to sprain, the common symptom of strain is pain and swelling in the affected muscle. Other signs of sprain include loss of muscle strength, spasm and inability to move the injured part.

The Severity Of Strains And Sprains

Healthcare providers usually categorize strains and sprains according to the severity of injury.

  • Grade I sprain/strain means that the injury is mild and involves only minor damage to the muscles, tendons and joints
  • Grade II sprain/strain means that the muscles or tendons are still intact yet partially torn
  • Grade III sprain/strain is the most severe type of injury, because the muscles and tendons are completely torn or stretched, which cause joint instability.

First Aid Techniques for Strains and Sprains

Taking a brief rest after experiencing sprain or strain can help decrease pain.
Taking a brief rest after experiencing sprain or strain can help decrease pain.

Rest of the injured muscle

Application of cold compress or ice packs for a couple of days until the swelling or inflammation subsides

Use of compression garments or bandages to help immobilize the injury

Elevation of the injury above the height of the heart to promote circulation and decrease swelling and inflammation

Related Video on Sprain and Strain Differences:

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MO-4B_qz6c” width=”220″]


“Sprains and Strains: What’s the Difference?” OrthoInfo. Retrieved online on August 15, 2014 from http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00111

“Sprains and Strains.” Better Health Channel. Retrieved online on August 15, 2014 from http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Sprains_and_strains?open

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