A sprain and a strain are both minor injuries, not fractured bones that impact the soft tissue of muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The difference between a strain and a sprain is that a strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon and a sprain has affected ligament tissue. Both occur at joints where ligaments connect bone to bone and tendons connect bone to muscles. They are usually temporary, mild injuries that get treated similarly and heal quickly.
A sprain most often occurs as a result of an awkward fall, car accident, or sports injury. It results when a joint is yanked, twisted, pushed, hit, or jerked suddenly, such as the impact of falling forward or your hands or tackled on the field. The sudden motion moves the joint in a way it's not meant to be flexed, tearing the ligament.
Strains frequently result from excessive exercise, heavy lifting, repetitive motion, or minor impacts. You can get strains in your lower back by improperly lifting a load, or in your leg from "twisting" an ankle while running. Strains are colloquially referred to as "torn" or "pulled" muscles. Knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows, and knees are usually injured in this way.
Soft tissue injuries have symptoms of redness, swelling, surface bruising, reduced mobility, and a dull throbbing ache or sharp cramping pain. Sprains and strains are best treated in the first 48 hours by RICE, meaning rest, ice, compress, and elevate. The sprained or strained area should not be moved, but should be iced, wrapped tautly and elevated.
After 48 hours, heat can be used in conjunction with gentle massage to loosen the surrounding muscles. Warm baths or heating pads are often used to treat sprains of strains. Gentle use of the injured area can also begin at this time. If the pain is severe, it is often recommended that an anti-inflammatory or pain reducer, or apply a topical analgesic. In extreme injuries, a doctor can x-ray the area to make sure there is no bone damage. A splint or brace might be used to keep from aggravating the sensitive joint. Sometimes, in repeated injuries, physical rehabilitation strengthens the adjacent muscles to prevent re-injury.