The human body is one of the most efficient machinery out there, but like all machines, the human body also has its breakdowns. Strains and sprains are very common joint injuries that you might experience due to certain physical activities. While in common terms, both sprains and strains are usually used interchangeably, both these injuries are different in many ways. You could even get a sprain and a strain at the same time. How can you possibly tell if you have experienced a sprain or a strain? Let us help you know better. In this article, we will be comparing sprain vs. strain in terms of their symptoms and causes to help you identify and differentiate between the two. For your convenience, we will also be sharing with you the treatment for both these injuries and the situations that you must avoid to prevent these injuries. 

What Is Sprain?

A sprain is an injury caused to your ligament as a result of tearing or stretching. This is an injury caused to the band of tissues that connect one bone to the other. Often caused by heavy physical activity, the common locations for sprains are knees, ankles, wrists, thumbs and backs. Sprains make it difficult to move the affected joint and it might be difficult to add weight to the affected area. 

What Is Strain?

An injury caused to the muscles or tendons due to over-stretching or over-contracting is known as a strain. Tendons are thick fibrous chords of tissue that connect muscles to bones. Caused as a result of a sudden twist or pull of muscles, strains are commonly caused in lower back muscles or hamstring muscles. 


Both these joint injuries- sprains and strains are very much similar to each other which is why they also have very common symptoms. One of the most important differentiating symptoms of these two injuries is that a sprain will cause bruising around the affected area while a strain will cause muscle spasms. Let us take a look at the other symptoms of these injuries to help you compare sprains vs. strains

Symptoms Of Sprain

A Sprain, as we know, is an injury caused to the ligaments. The following are the common symptoms of sprains:

  • Bruising around the affected joint.
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Reduced flexibility
  • Limited and painful mobility
  • Instability 

Symptoms Of Strain

From the previous sections, we know that a strain is an injury to the muscles or the tendons. The common symptoms of strains are very similar to those of sprains. The following are some symptoms you might have when experiencing a strain:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle cramps 
  • Pain around the affected area
  • Limited flexibility
  • Swelling
  • Reduced motion
  • Weakness 


One of the best ways to differentiate between sprain vs. strain is to know what caused the injury. The cause of the injury will help you identify the same and get the required treatment. While both of these are joint injuries, the affected areas are different for the two. Let us take a look at the causes of sprains and strains for a better understanding. 

Causes Of Sprain 

Ligaments are thick bands of cartilage that connect two bones. A sprain is a joint injury caused to the ligaments as a result of stretching or tearing. Common causes of sprain include sports, exercising, accidents, over-exertion, lifting very heavy objects, awkward positions or repeating the same movement over a very long period of time. While the most common location for a sprain is the ankle, other joints that can get affected by sprains include the back, thumb, knee and wrist. 

Causes Of Strain

Strains are caused due to the overstretching or tearing of muscles or tendons. Tendons are the connecting thick bands between muscles and bones. A sudden twist, tear, stretch or pull of a muscle causes strains. The main causes of a strain include over-stretching or over-contracting. The hamstring muscles and lower back are the most common locations for a strain in the human body. 

Treatment For Sprain And Strain

The magic spell that is beneficial for treating both sprains and strains is RICE- rest, ice, compression and elevation. This method is not only excellent for self-care and instant relief but is also advised by professionals for recovering from these joint injuries. Let us take a detailed look at this treatment for sprain and strain. 

  • Rest: Avoid using the affected joints for a few days after the injury. Give this joint time to heal. 
  • Ice: This is the step that is beneficial in removing inflammation and swelling. Make sure to not apply ice directly to your skin and use a piece of clothing around an ice bag or ice pack when applying to the affected joint. Apply ice for only 20 minutes at once and repeat as many times as possible. 
  • Compression: Gently wrap the affected joint in a bandage or trainer’s tape to reduce the swelling. 
  • Elevation: Keeping the affected joint elevated above the level of your heart helps reduce swelling. In case of knee or ankle injuries, you must try keeping your legs parallel to the ground. 

In case of more severe joint injuries, your healthcare professional might suggest surgery.

Risk Factors For Sprain And Strain

If you are a sportsperson or someone who is into working out or exercising regularly, you must be aware that a sprain or strain is very common and you could experience it any time. Are there any specific risk factors that increase the chances of experiencing a sprain or a strain? Let us find out. 

The following are some common risk factors for sprains and strains that you must look out for to reduce the chances of injury:

  • Lack of proper conditioning and being out of shape could lead to your muscles and joints being weak and unable to support your movement. 
  • Using worn-out equipment or gear or ill-fitting footwear could be a major risk factor for sprains and strains. 
  • Not following a warming-up and cooling-down routine before and after any athletic activity could be a major risk for joint injuries. 
  • If you are tired and your body has not gotten proper rest and healing, then you will not be carrying your body properly. Not maintaining a good form is a risk factor for sprains and strains. ‘
  • Being aware of the environment that you are walking, exercising or playing a sport in, is important to prevent injury. Slippery or wet surfaces, sharp and pointy objects on the surface or uneven surfaces are factors that you cannot control but could cause sprains or strains. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the primary difference between a sprain and a strain?

The primary difference between a sprain and a strain is that there may be bruising around the affected joint in a sprain while there may be muscle spasms in the case of a strain. 

2. How do I know if I've suffered a sprain or a strain?

You will know if you have suffered a sprain or a strain depending on the symptoms that you are experiencing. The most common difference is a bruise in case of a sprain and spasms in case of strains. 

3. How long does it usually take to recover from a sprain or strain fully?

It takes about 4 to 6 weeks to recover fully from a sprain or strain with proper treatment. 

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