How to tell the difference between a strain and a sprain
Post Date
30th September 2014
How to tell the difference between a strain and a sprain

A sprainis a stretch or tear of a ligament, which is a band of fibrous tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint.

A strain is an injury to either a muscle or a tendon, which are fibrous cords of tissue that connect muscle to bone.

What are the symptoms of a sprain?

A sprain can result from a blow to the body or a fall or twist, which forces a joint out of its normal position and stretches or tears the ligament supporting that joint. Overstretching or slight tearing of the ligaments can also cause a sprain, leading to minimal pain and swelling.

With a sprain, one or more ligaments can be injured at the same time. The symptoms of a sprain can include pain, swelling, bruising, instability and the inability to move the joint. Bruising is slight, and the person is usually able to put weight on the affected joint.

What are the symptoms of a strain?

A strain can result from the twisting of a muscle or tendon. Strains can result from repetitive movement of muscles and tendons and can occur after improperly lifting heavy objects or overstressing the muscles.

The symptoms of a strain can vary from acute to chronic. Often, people with a strain experience pain, muscle weakness and spasms and inflammation. Severe strains can partially or completely tear the muscle or tendon and can often be very painful and disabling.

How to treat sprains and strains

If you’re suffering from sprains and strains, try following the four RICE recovery steps: rest, ice, compression and elevation.


In order to fully recover from a sprain or strain, ensure that regular exercise is limited. Immediately after the incident, try not to put weight on the area for 48 hours.


To help cool and sooth the inflamed area, apply an ice pack to the injured area for 20 minutes at a time. You can use a bag of ice, or wrap some ice in a towel. Repeat this four to eight times per day.  To avoid cold injury, do not apply the ice for more than 20 minutes.


To help reduce swelling, it is important to compress the injured area. You may like to use compression bandages to help reduce any swelling immediately after the injury.  


When possible, it is important to keep the injured area elevated on a pillow, above the level of the heart, in order to help decrease swelling.


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