The Difference Between a Sprain and a Strain

During the summer months, there is an increase in outdoor activity. Everything from sporting events to personal recreational activities are in full swing. Maintain an active lifestyle is good for your total wellness and may make the body less injury prone. However, sprains and strains are common injuries that can affect anyone either or not they are physically active. Although both injuries are soft tissue injuries, they are not the same. Below are a few key differences that set them apart.

What is a sprain?

A strain is caused by damage to ligaments, which are the connective tissues that hold bones together. These injuries are commonly occurring at the wrists, knee, and ankle. Sprains are caused by trauma that overstretches or dislocates a joint.

Symptoms of a sprain include bruising, pain, swelling, and inflammation, all of which could vary in intensity depending on the severity of the injury. In several cases, the joint can become absolutely non-functional as ligaments may become completely ruptured. In milder cases where the ligament is only overstretched or partially ruptured, the joint may still be functional, but swelling will still be visible.

What is a strain?

A strain is caused by injury to your muscles or tendons, which are the tissue that connect muscles to bone. This type of injury is a result of overstretching the muscles, which results in the overexertion of muscle fibers. Strains usually occurs in the back, shoulder and hamstring muscles.

Symptoms of a strain include muscle spasms, swelling, pain, muscle weakness, cramping and inflammation. Similar to sprains, the intensity of these symptoms is dependent on the severity of the injury. In severe cases, muscle function could be lost due to the complete rupturing of the muscle or tendon while symptoms of milder cases may involve just pain and minor swelling.


In mild situations, sprains or strains can be rented by resting the affected area, applying a cold compress, or even by keeping it elevated. In some cases, you may need the help of a physician who will be able to recommend the appropriate treatment, which may include immobilization, surgery, or physical therapy.


By taking precautions, many sprains and strains are preventable. Still, everyone is just a sprain or a strain whether or not they have an active lifestyle. Physical activities like stretching and muscle conditioning exercises will help improve muscle strength and reduce the risk of injury. It is also important to eat a well balanced diet which will supply your body with all the nutrients and minerals needed to maintain healthy muscles and connective tissues.