How do you tell the difference between a sprain and a strain?

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Sprain or strain?

You trip and hurt your ankle. Ouch! She’s swollen, she’s throbbing… it’s definitely a sprain. Uh, or maybe a sprain? What is the difference between the two?

If you keep confusing sprains with strains, you’re not alone.

“It’s easy to confuse sprains with strains because in both cases the soft tissues around the joints are overstretched — sometimes to the point of tearing,” says Dr.right Gbolahan Okubadejo, an orthopedic spine surgeon in New York City.

While sprains and strains may look similar, there are slight differences between them that require slightly different treatment, whether prescribed by your doctor, an osteopath, or at home.

We spoke to doctors and experts to understand the basic differences between sprains and strains, what they are, how they’re treated, and how to prevent them from happening again.

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What is a burden?

Strains are injuries to muscles and tendons, says Dr.right Okubadejo. “A strain occurs when muscles or tendons that connect muscle to bone become overstretched or tear.”

If the muscle is too tight – which can happen during intense exercise or if you don’t warm up enough before exercising – it can tear and lead to strain.

Tendons—bands of fibrous tissue that connect muscles to bones—can also strain or tear.

According to D., a muscle strain is also referred to as a muscle strain or muscle strainright Marvin Singh, owner of Precisione Clinic in San Diego, California.
“It happens when a muscle is overused, abused, or overstretched and the muscles or tendons become compromised.”

Strains can occur in different parts of the body, but they most commonly occur in the lower back and hamstrings.

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What is a sprain?

If you’ve ever sprained your ankle and landed wrong on a sidewalk, you’ve sprained yourself.

“A sprain occurs when ligaments — tissues that hold bones together — become overstretched or tear,” says Dr.right Okubadejo.

It can affect an ankle, knee, or wrist, but it can also affect a thumb or your back. Regardless of the joint, if your ligaments twist, tear, or stretch too much, it’s a sprain.

While both sprains and strains can cause pain and swelling, sprains can rupture blood vessels and cause bruising.

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Symptoms of a sprain and strain

Both injuries are accompanied by pain, swelling, and redness, but there are some important differences, according to Dright Okubadejo.

“Usually with a sprain, the area around the joint is bruised.” A strain, on the other hand, can lead to muscle spasms in order to tighten the Dright singh. “The symptoms of a sprain and a strain can be similar. One of the biggest differences is that straining can lead to muscle spasms around the affected muscle.”

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What is the difference between a sprain and a strain?  See our explanations.

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How does the doctor diagnose a sprain or strain?

You may be tempted to ignore the injury or wait and see if you feel better. For less severe injuries, the Dright Okubadejo believes that people can heal themselves. A mild strain will repair itself in about two to four weeks, he says; If you’re in severe pain or don’t feel much better after a few days, it’s time to see a doctor.

“Typically, sprains and strains need to be diagnosed by a doctor,” he adds. They will do a brief physical exam and will likely order you for an X-ray or MRI scan.

“A sprain or strain is usually accompanied by pain and tenderness, as well as swelling and restricted movement. The injured person sometimes hears a distinct “pop,” a sign of a ruptured ligament leading to a sprain,” he explains.

Your doctor will usually diagnose a sprain or strain by listening to how you injure yourself and through a physical exam, says Dr.right Tomas Pevny, orthopedic surgeon for ValleyOrtho in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. “When in doubt, imaging helps – usually an MRI.”

Examining your injury will identify common symptoms such as bruising, cramping, swelling, and mobility issues. it may include an X-ray to rule out broken bones, says Dr.right Rahul Shah, an orthopedic spine surgeon in Vineland, New Jersey.

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What treatment is used for a sprain or strain?

If you’ve ever twisted your ankle, you’re probably familiar with the RICE technique (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). This technique really helps in treating sprains and strains.

“Sprains and minor strains are usually treated using the same method,” says Dr.right Shah. How she can help you:


Don’t step on the wound and give it time to heal.

“Don’t put weight on the sprain or strain because the tissues need rest to repair themselves,” says Dr.right Okubadejo.


Putting ice on your wound can reduce inflammation.

The compression

Wrapping the injury with a compression bandage helps, according to Dright Okubadejo, who also recommends taking over-the-counter pain relievers.


Grab a book or the remote control and curl up on the sofa for a while. Elevating your injury will also help reduce swelling, says Dright Pevny that helps improve your condition.

consultation with a doctor

It’s important to see your doctor if you have pain related to the Dright singh. That sprain or strain could actually be something much more serious, such as a broken bone.

If there’s any noticeable swelling or numbness, make an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon, the Dright Okubadejo.

A doctor may prescribe stronger medication, place a splint over the injured area, and prescribe walking shoes or crutches for a period of time.


We rarely operate for a sprain. “There are different degrees of stress,” says Dr.right Pevny. A mild strain is an injury that affects a muscle but remains stable. It will heal on its own with rest, ice, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and possibly physical therapy.”

However, a muscle tear or chronic sprains may require surgery, adds the Dright Pevny.

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Who is most at risk of sprains and strains?

Being active is good for your health, but it comes with risks like sprains and strains, explains Dr.D Hélène Bertrand, doctor in Vancouver, scientific researcher and clinical teacher at the University of British Columbia.

Whether you play tennis, run outdoors, play basketball, or hike bumpy trails, you’re just as likely to get a sprain as a strain, says Dr.D Bertrand, who is also a co-founder of QR Cream, a pain reliever company.

And there’s no way to tell if you’re going to get a sprain or a strain, according to Dright Okubadejo. “Most people are just as likely to suffer a sprain as a strain.”

He explains that these injuries are common in people with weaker muscles and joints. However, less sporty people could even have an accident a little more often.

“People who are overweight, older, or in poor physical condition tend to be at greater risk of spraining or straining because their muscles and joints are less able to support body movement,” adds Dr.right Okubadejo.

Another culprit: ill-fitting shoes. “Sprains and strains can sometimes occur when a person wears shoes that are too big,” he said. And even if you’re in top form, if you push your body to the limit without warming up first, you can still tempt fate.

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Prevent sprains and strains

Since you can’t predict life’s twists and turns — accidents happen to everyone — consider one of these options to help minimize your future risk of sprains and strains:

Warm up and relax

When planning your workout, always allow time for warm-up and cool-down phases.

They help gently stretch and strengthen your muscles as well as reduce the risk of pushing your body beyond its limits.

One of the best ways to prevent sprains and strains is to do good stretches, not strain yourself, and know your limits. It’s also important to use quality equipment, wear the right shoes, and take breaks during your workout to avoid overdoing it, says Dr.right singh.

stay in shape

Taking care of your body through a healthy diet and regular exercise, according to Dr.right Okubadejo, who also recommends wearing appropriate footwear.

“Keeping your body fit and being at a healthy weight is extremely important when trying to prevent sprains and strains,” he says. Exercising frequently can help strengthen ligaments, tendons, and muscles so they are less likely to strain or tear. Make sure your shoes fit properly. Also, if you’ve ever had a sprain or strain, do strengthening exercises every day.”

Wear an elastic band

As in many other areas of life, prevention is the best cure. If you’re a runner and have had a sprain or strain in the past, consider wearing an elastic band over the affected joint, Dr.D Bertrand.

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