Sprains and Strains

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Sprains and Strains

Many people do not know the difference between sprains and strains. Most likely because the two are very similar but just take place in different parts of the body. Prevention and physiotherapy treatment are also very similar however. Let’s explore the difference between a sprain and a strain, what the symptoms are, how to prevent them, and how to treat them.

Sprains vs. Strains

A sprain is defined as a stretched or torn ligament. Ligaments are tissue that connect bones at a joint. Falling, twisting, or getting hit are all common causes of sprains. The two most common types of sprains are ankle and wrist sprains. A strain is defined as a stretched or torn muscle or tendon. Tendons are tissues that connect muscles to bones. Twisting or pulling these tissue are common causes of a strain. Strains may happen suddenly or develop over time. Back and hamstring muscle strains are common strains.

Risk factors for sprains and strains are numerous and include:

  • Poor conditioning: Poor conditioning can leave muscles weak and more at risk to injury.
  • Fatigue: Tired muscles have a harder time providing good support for your joints.
  • Improper warm up: Improper warm-up before vigorous physical activity can leave the body more susceptible to injury.
  • Environmental conditions: Slipper or uneven conditions are factors that contribute to an environment in which injury is more likely.
  • Poor equipment: Equipment that doesn’t fit properly or is poorly maintained may contribute to the risk of a sprain or strain.

Both sprains and strains share a few common symptoms including: pain, swelling, and restricted movement. After experiencing a sprain, you may find it difficult to move the joint while after a strain, you may experience difficulty moving the muscle. During a sprain, you may feel a pop or tear followed by bruising. Strains often occur while playing sports and are often accompanied by muscle spasms. Usually, treatment for both strains and strains are similar initially.


Both sprains and strains require resting the injured area, icing it, and then wearing a bandage or device that compresses the affected area. Further treatment is determined by the doctor or your local physiotherapy practitioner following the results of a physical exam. The doctor or therapist will check for swelling and tenderness, location and intensity of pain, and may even take X-rays to rule out fracture or injury to the bone. Medication such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, etc.) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, etc.) may be used for mild sprains and strains to reduce the pain. In cases of severe sprain or strain, your doctor or physiotherapist may immobilize the area with a brace or splint and eventually try to rehabilitate the area with a series of stretches and exercises. In some cases, such as a torn ligament or ruptured muscle, surgery may be considered as the only viable option.

If you are experiencing pain, stiffness, soreness, or restricted movement, consult with your local doctor, or physical therapist at BC Back Clinic. Fast and effective treatment for sprains and strains is widely available. Get treatment and get back to enjoying life!

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