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What’s the Difference Between a Sprain and Strain?


WRITTEN BY: Sports Medicine
Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

Sliding into second base, going in for a breakaway layup, running on an uneven trail, overstretching, falling, or even dancing at a wedding can cause a sprain or strain. Sprains and strains are common injuries that can be caused by a variety of physical activities or movements. Although they can be sustained during the same activities, sprains and strains are different injuries that affect different anatomy.

What Is a Sprain?

A sprain is caused by stretching or tearing a ligament, or the connective tissue between bones. Ligaments help support your 360 joints, enabling you to move your elbows, knees, hips, and other parts of the body.

Sprains can be mild, moderate, or severe, but symptoms of all three types of sprains commonly include:

  • Bruising
  • Inflammation
  • Pain
  • Swelling

Sprains can be caused by direct or indirect trauma to a joint, such as a fall or a hit. You will typically feel a pop or tear in the joint when a sprain occurs. A severe sprain can immediately cause extreme pain because the ligament tears completely, making the joint nonfunctional. Moderate sprains are partial ligament tears that create unstable joints. A mild sprain stretches the ligament, which does not loosen the joint.

#Sprains can be caused by direct or indirect trauma to a joint, such as a fall or a hit. Click To Tweet

What Is a Strain?

Strains are injuries of your muscles or your tendons, which connect muscles to bone. Typically caused by overuse of muscles and tendons, symptoms of strains can include:

  • Cramping
  • Inflammation
  • Muscle spasm
  • Muscle weakness
  • Pain
  • Swelling

Severe strains can cause your muscle and/or tendon to be partially or completely torn, leading to debilitation. Moderate strains can partially affect muscle function since the muscle or tendon is likely only slightly torn. If you have a mild strain, your muscle or tendon is slightly stretched, not torn.

#Strains are injuries of your muscles or tendons, which connect muscles to bone. Click To Tweet

How Can I Recover From a Sprain or Strain?

Recovery times for sprains and strains can vary from person to person. The R.I.C.E. method typically helps with symptoms such as pain and inflammation. R.I.C.E. stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

If symptoms persist or worsen, see your doctor immediately. Severe sprains and strains may require surgery or physical therapy.

For more information on sprains and strains, check out this UPMC On Topic video with foot and ankle specialist MaCalus Hogan, MD.

Sports Medicine

UPMC Sports Medicine is the region’s largest and most experienced program dedicated to treating, training, and inspiring athletes at levels, in all sports. Our physicians, surgeons, physical therapists, athletic trainers, sports nutrition, and sports performance experts are dedicated to helping athletes and active people recover from injuries, and even prevent them. Read More