Sprains vs. Strains


Sprain – Overstretching or tearing of a ligament (tissue connecting bones together in your joints). Common sprains occur in the ankle, wrist, elbow or knee. Sprains occur when a joint is overextended by falling or twisting a body joint.

Strain – Pulling or overstretching a muscle or tendon (tissue connecting muscles to bones). Common muscle strains occur in the back, shoulder or thigh. Strains often result from lifting a heavy object, excessive work or while playing sports.

INITIAL CARE - Treatment for both sprains and strains is similar (RICE)


It is important to maintain normal mobility of the injured joint or area during the recovery phase. However, premature return to full activity may slow healing and lead to early re-injury. Undue stress or activity that causes pain should be avoided. Mild temporary discomfort during reconditioning exercise is not uncommon and of little concern. However, moderately severe or persistent pain is a sign that the level of activity is too advanced. The return to full activity should be done on a gradual basis. Minor injuries may require no other treatment than this program. The length of time required for complete healing varies from person to person and with the severity of the injury, but most patients return to normal activity within 4-6 weeks. If the area remains persistently tender or swollen or if you have been instructed to do so, seek follow-up care or re-evaluation of your injury.


“Acute Treatment of Inversion Ankle Sprains: Immobilization versus Functional Treatment.” Clinical Orthopaedics & Related Research 455.1(2007): 169-172.
“Managing Sprains and Strains.” Practice Nurse 33.5 (2007): 44-49.