Sprains and strains are two types of common soft tissue injuries that share similar signs and symptoms, but involve different areas of the body.

A sprain is a stretched or torn ligament. Ligaments are bands of fibrous tissues that connect bones at a joint. Ankle and wrist sprains are the most common.

A strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon. A tendon is a fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscle to bone. Strains can happen abruptly or develop over time and usually occur in the lower back and in the hamstring muscle in the back of the thigh.

Treatment options for both sprains and strains involve resting the affected area, icing it, putting compression on it and elevating it. Mild sprains and strains can be successfully treated at home, while more severe sprains and strains might require surgical repair and physical therapy treatments.



Signs and symptoms of sprains and strains depend on the severity of the injury.

Individuals with sprain injuries might experience symptoms such as:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Inability to move the affected joint
  • Pop or crackling sound in the joint

Individuals with strain injuries might experience symptoms such as:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle weakness
  • Inability to move the affected joint




A sprain occurs when an individual overextends or tears a ligament while putting stress on the joint in question. Sprains may occur due to direct or indirect trauma in the following instances:

  • During walking or exercising on an uneven surface
  • During an athletic activity (skiing, tennis, soccer)
  • While landing on an outstretched hand or foot during a fall
  • By taking a sudden blow to the body


There are two types of strains: acute and chronic. An acute strain occurs when a muscle becomes strained or pulled when it is stretched abruptly. Acute strains can occur by:

  • Slipping on ice
  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Throwing objects
  • Lifting a heavy object

A chronic strain results from prolonged, repetitive movement of a muscle during job tasks or while participating in sports such as:

  • Gymnastics
  • Tennis
  • Rowing
  • Golf
  • Racquetball


Risk factors

A few factors that can increase the risk of sprain and strain injuries include the following:

  • Putting stress on or overextending the muscles
  • Not warming up properly before an extreme physical workout
  • Walking or exercising on slippery or uneven surfaces
  • Wearing improper foot attire or other gear equipment
  • Lack of conditioning




Treatment options for a sprain or strain injury depend on the joint that is affected and the severity of the injury. A few recommended treatments include:

  • Taking over the counter pain relievers to help relieve symptoms associated with the injury
  • Applying ice and pressure to the affected area
  • Immobilizing the affected area by wearing a brace or splint
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Physiotherapy: a type of therapy that involves specific exercises designed to improve the range of motion and function of the affected area.
  • Undergoing surgical procedures in the case of a torn ligament or ruptured muscle



A few preventative measures that are recommended to reduce the chances of obtaining a sprain or strain injury include the following:

  • Exercising regularly by stretching and strengthening the muscles
  • Participating in a conditioning program to build muscle strength
  • Wearing proper foot attire and gear  protection
  • Properly warming up before involvement in any physical activity