The Difference Between Sprains & Strains

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By Dr. Stefanie Yao
Published on August 28, 2013

Sprains & strains have different causes & symptoms.

Generally, a sprain tends be a stretch and/or tear of a ligament which is the fibrous band of connective tissue that joins the end of one bone to that of another. Whereas a strain tends to be an injury to muscle and/or tendon (musculo-tendinous junction) where the muscle starts to become tendon and where the tendons connect muscle to bone. Strains tend to occur due to a quick tear, twist or pull of the muscle as well as via an overstretching or over contraction.

Causes of Sprains and Strains:

Typically a sprain can be due to a fall or twist such as an ankle, knee or wrist sprain and a strain can happen suddenly or develop over time. A sudden strain can happen with lifting a heavy box, playing a sport and over exerting your body or slipping on ice. Compared to a strain, which can happen over time due to prolonged repetitive movements of the muscle and tendon with inadequate breaks.

The majority of people can be at risk for sprains and strains. No one is safe! There are specific factors that can put you at a higher risk.  Such as being in poor physical condition which leaves your muscles weak and less flexible thus placing you at a greater risk of sustaining an injury. Other factors, which can place a person at risk for a strain or sprain includes an inadequate warm-up before exercise or activity to loosen up muscles and joint range of motion. Fatigue is another cause of sprains or strains such that when muscles are tired they typically may not be providing the right support for your joints and thus can succumb to the stress your body is exerting leading to a sprain/strain. Another possible risk is poor technique in a sport or in motion as it places stress on the ligaments and muscles which can lead to risks for a sprain or strain.

Symptoms of Sprains and Strains:

Common symptoms of sprains include pain, swelling, bruising, and limited ability to move the affected joint. Symptoms of strains are fairly similar to a sprain with pain, swelling, and limited ability to move affected muscle, but strains may also have accompanied muscle spasms, weakness and tightness.

Stay Tuned for Part II on Degrees of Severity and Treatment Suggestions!