What is the Difference Between a Sprain and a Strain?

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  • Written By: S. Mithra
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 03 May 2020
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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.

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Post 3

Muscle strains are the worst! I've had on a few different times, and it's awful. It seems like it happens in the same area over and over. Is it common to get strains in the same muscle repeatedly?

Post 2

I never even knew there was a difference between a sprain versus a strain. I thought it was just a different way to say the same thing.

It appears though, that while they are not the same, it doesn't matter really if you know which injury you have, since the treatment is the same for them both.

Post 1

I recently took a fall and tore all 3 ligaments in my ankle and chipped a bone. The doctor told me that it would have been a lot easier and faster to heal if I had just broken it. I am in an aircast for 12 weeks and will start physical therapy in about 2 weeks. Will this totally heal my ligaments and ankle or is there a possibility of having to have surgery?

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