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Sprain & Strain

By Editorial Team (2)
January 31, 2022

What is a strain?

A strain occurs when you injure a tendon or a muscle. Tendons are the fibrous and tough tissues that bind muscle tissue to your bones. When you strain your back, the tendons and muscles that provide your spine with strength and support are pulled, become twisted or are torn.

A strain occurs when there is a stretching of the muscle or tendon in your body. Tendons are the fibrous cord of tissues that connect the muscle to the bone. A strain occurs when there is an overuse of muscles and tendons and can occur mostly in your lower back and in the hamstring muscle located in the back of your thigh. There are usually two types of strains: Chronic and Acute.

What is a sprain?

A sprain refers to the tearing or stretching of a ligament. Ligaments are made up of fibrous tissue connecting bones together at the joints. Ligaments prevent the joints from moving too much.

Sprains, on the other hand, is the stretching and tearing of ligaments, still fibrous tissues that are tough and connect two bones together to form joints. Ligaments are the connective tissues that help support your joints that move in 360 degrees, such as your elbows, knees, hips as well as other parts of your body. Perhaps the most common location of sprains happens in your ankle.

Sprain Vs. Strain

So after asking ourselves  “What is a strain and how does it differ from a sprain? ” we have come to the following points:

  • A sprain is an injury of sorts to the ligaments.
  • A strain is an injury of sorts to the tendons.


Sprains and strains occur very commonly. In fact, sprains and strains and other back problems are one of the most common reasons people seek help from their healthcare provider.


A strain can be the result of pulling or twisting a tendon or a muscle. It can also happen very quickly, for example, if the back muscles are over-stressed in a single instance of improper lifting. A chronic strain most often occurs as a result of prolonged and repeated movements of the tendons and muscles.

Sprains often result when falls or sudden twists occur. They also happen when a blow forces a joint from its normal position. Any of these situations can cause one or several ligaments to stretch beyond their normal position which causes damage.

Other than twists, injuries and other accidents, additional factors can increase your risk of back sprain or strain. These include:

  • Excessive curving of the lumbar (lower) spine
  • Obesity increases your risk for strains and sprains
  • Weak muscles of the abdomen or back can make sprains and strains more likely to occur
  • Tight hamstring muscles (muscles located in the back of your thighs)
  • Participating in certain activities: sports that involve pulling and pushing, like football and weightlifting put you at greater risk for sprains and strains
After knowing the difference between a strain and a sprain and their corresponding definitions, it is important to ask yourself, what are the common causes of strains and sprains? Strains and Sprains occur in many ways, but perhaps these are the most common:
For Sprains: 
  • Uneven Surface- Exercising, whether it is jogging, or doing strenuous physical, even just plainly walking on an uneven surface can be a cause for sprains. This is usually the most common cause of a sprain in the ankles.
  • Pivoting- pivoting, or turning suddenly during any physically athletic activity can be a major cause of sprains, especially in the knees
  • Using the hand as a cushion upon falling- falling while putting all of the load on your hand, especially an outstretched one can be a cause of sprains, especially in your elbows and wrists.
  • Sports Injuries- For sports such as skiing, tennis, and any racquet-involved sport, there is a high risk of causing a sprain.
For Strains:
Acute strains usually happen in conjunction with accidents, such as:
  • Slipping on floors, especially wet ones
  • Lifting a heavy object while in an awkward position
  • Running and jumping, especially when done improperly and abruptly
  • Throwing too hard in an improper manner
  • Chronic strains, on the other hand, are caused by prolonged and usually repetitive movement of a muscle, such as in sports that include: Rowing, Golf, Gymnastics, and Tennis.

What are the Risk Factors for Sprains and Strains?

There are certain factors that can increase a person’s likelihood to acquire the condition, such as:
  • Environmental conditions – playing or exercising on uneven surfaces can increase your likelihood of contacting sprain and strain, as well as walking or running on slippery surfaces.
  • Poor Muscle Conditioning – if the muscles and corresponding tissues in your body are not used to work and are not properly conditioned to perform it may result in a strain or sprain.
  • Improper Muscle Warm-up – This goes hand in hand with poor muscle conditioning, if your muscles aren’t well conditioned then chances are you have to compensate in terms of warm up.
  • Fatigue – Fatigue can also because of both sprain and strain, this is because when your muscles are tired, you are more prone to muscle and joint stress.
  • Poor equipment – Poor equipment, especially in the case of improperly sized footwear, can cause sprain and strain.

Complications Involved in Sprains and Strains

These are some of the complications that could develop from  a sprain and/or strain:
  • Fractures – in severe cases of sprains and strains, there may be a lot of swelling and bruising in the area directly affected by the condition. If the swelling and bruising persist along with symptoms such as the inability to bear weight, pain in the immediate area surrounding the sprain and/or strain, and lumps and/or bumps in the area affected by the condition.
  • Ruptured tendon – in severe cases of strains, there will sometimes be a ruptured tendon involved, in which case you may be unable to use the muscle affected.
  • Recurring Pain and Swelling – this complication is most common in the case of ankle sprains
  • Cartilage injury – there will also be times when you feel intense pain in the case of a twisted knee, this is usually accompanied by a tearing sensation shortly before the pain.
  • Dislocated joints

Symptoms and Diagnostic Procedures

What are the most common Strain and Sprain Symptoms you should look out for?

There are many strain and sprain symptoms, and they will largely vary, depending on the severity of the injury itself. Some of the most common strain and sprain symptoms include:

Sprain Symptoms:

  • Direct pain around the affected area – When experiencing sprain symptoms, this is perhaps one of the most immediate sprain symptoms you will feel.
  • Swelling around the affected area – immediately after the pain there will be swelling around the area. This sprain symptom will persist and will be extremely painful when the sprain progresses into a fracture
  • Bruising – bruises are one of the sprain symptoms that will most likely happen in the long run, and will stay a long time until the condition heals.
  • Tenderness – tenderness around the part affected by the sprain can be a sign of inflammation, and sometimes can be an indication of a more serious Sprain symptom complication such as a fracture.
  • Inability to Move the Affected Body Part – when a sprain occurs, you will most likely be unable to move the part due to extreme pain. Moreover, you will not be allowed to lift or to put weight on the affected body part.
  • A popping sound – there will most likely be a popping sound or feeling in your joint at the time of the injury itself.

The swelling during most of these sprain symptoms will likely occur immediately after the injury and will persist for some time. The bruising however can happen not until the later stages of these sprain symptoms.

Strain Symptoms:

In truth, there is little difference in terms of symptoms when you compare both strain and sprain. These are some of the most common symptoms you might experience during the condition:

  • Pain around the area affected – same as with a sprain, when experiencing strain symptoms, there will immediately be a pain in the area affected.
  • Swelling – swelling like in the case of a sprain, can also occur in people experiencing strain symptoms.
  • Bruising – bruising around the area affected by the strain can also occur.
  • Hematoma – hematoma is like a bruise, but on a much bigger scale. A hematoma is the phenomenon of blood collecting under the skin directly on the site affected by a strain. A hematoma is characterized by a large, dark red bruise forming on the site of the strain.
  • Inability to move the affected body part – much like a sprain, the affected body part can’t be moved by the patient.
  • Weakness in the affected body part – there will be a loss of function in the body part affected, and will more than likely be incapacitated for the duration of the strain.
  • Muscle Spasms – Muscle spasms can also occur during a strain, and is characterized by painful tight contractions of the muscles in the immediate area surrounding the strain.

Degrees of Severity of the Sprain/Strain

Both strain and sprain have corresponding degrees or grades based on the severity of the condition, and they are used to assess the extent of the damage and the treatment to be used:

  1. Grade 1 –  a grade 1 sprain or strain is characterized by only a mild stretching of the muscles/ ligaments, and that only a few of these tissues have been torn. There will be a slight pain that can be felt although there is not a complete loss of functions in that area.
  2. Grade 2 – a second-grade sprain/strain is when there is a moderate strain and stretch in your muscles/ligaments. There will be more pain involved as well as tenderness. Bruising and a weakness in the area affected is also present.
  3. Grade 3 – This is the most severe degree of sprain/strain on the scale. This indicates that the muscle/ tendon or ligament that is affected is completely ruptured and has been split into two. There is a complete loss of function in that area of your body, and its condition is already unstable.

Diagnostic Procedures Involved in Sprain and Strain

The doctor who will diagnose your sprain and/or strain will first ask you how you injured yourself in the first place. Other questions the doctor might ask is that if you are on any medications that can affect the sprain/ strain such as blood thinning medication. The doctor will then check for these factors to assess the severity of your injury:

  • Pain around the affected area
  • Tenderness and swelling
  • Bruising and bleeding in the area affected
  • Checking for fractures that might have happened
  • The range of movement in the affected area
  • How impaired the affected area is

The doctor will then subject you to an x-ray if the condition proves to be severe enough.


How are Strain and Sprain Treated? Most common medical procedures for sprain and strain treatment

What usually happens when a sprain or strain occurs is that the condition is often treated immediately with the use of first aid. As far as sprain and strain treatment is considered, there is a need for immediate action to prevent any further damage to the affected part, and sometimes just to temporarily avoid further damage before it gets treated by a medical professional.

When applying first aid care to a sprain or strain, you must remember a set of self-care techniques called PRICE Therapy that is to be used in cases of sprain and strain treatments. PRICE therapy stands for:

  • Protection – The P in PRICE stands for protection, and simply means protecting the affected area from further injury. Examples of this would be adding extra support to the equipment you wear, focusing on the area where there are extra stress and effort placed on it.
  • Rest – the second letter in PRICE, which is R, stands for rest. This is a simple step to follow, it means first and foremost, to rest your body and to avoid any further action that might aggravate the condition further. Furthermore, rest means to avoid the activity that caused the sprain or strain in the first place and to avoid any activity that may affect the area affected by the condition.
  • Ice – This third part of the PRICE sprain and strain treatment involves the constant application of ice or cold compress to the affected area for the first 48-72 hours after the injury has taken place. A good measure of how often you should apply ice is to apply it to the area for 15-20 minutes at a time and with the frequency of every 2-3 hours. The ice should not be applied directly to the affected area, but only applied through a damp cloth.
  • Compression – The C in this sprain and strain treatment stands for compression and simply means compressing the affected area with the use of a bandage. The compression will prevent any more swelling and movement that could damage the affected area further. A good measure of how to wrap it is to wrap it snugly around the affected area but not too tightly. Do not forget to remove the bandage before you go to sleep.
  • Elevate – elevate the area that is affected by the strain and/or strains above the level of your heart in order to reduce and avoid further swelling. This can be done simply placing a few pillows on where the affected area is going to be laid down.

During sprain and strain treatment, there is also a need to avoid a set of factors that are appropriately named HARM for the first 72 hours after having sprained and/or strained a body part. HARM is a set of things you should avoid which is short for:

  • Heat – heat should be avoided for your body part that is affected by stress and strain, such as heat in the form of hot baths, saunas, and heat compress.
  • Alcohol – the H in this sprain and strain treatment stands for Alcohol. As a person who has been affected by strain and/or sprain, you should avoid alcohol as alcohol can increase the bleeding and swelling in any part of your body that is experiencing it. Consuming alcohol can also lead to the decreased rate of healing in your body
  • Running – running, or any exercise for that matter should be completely avoided so as to not put more stress in the affected area.
  • Massage – although a massage may be a tempting alternative to relieve the pain, massage actually is bad for you as it may increase bleeding and swelling. 

The doctor can also prescribe any of the following sprain and strain treatment:

  • Painkilling Medications – painkilling medications are sometimes the first line of defense of doctors to relieve the patient’s pain is felt. Some painkilling medications include NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and acetaminophen. NSAID Creams are also available, which you can rub directly or near to the area affected by the condition.
  • Surgery – surgery is only a viable option as a sprain and strain treatment when the ligament or muscle in question is already torn or ruptured. In this case, surgery is almost always the ideal option.
  • Therapy – therapy, along with those self-care techniques mentioned above go well especially in cases where the strain or sprain is only mild or moderate as to the degree of severity.
  • Braces or Cast – braces and casts may also be used by the doctor as a means to provide more support for the area affected by the condition.

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