A sprain is
an injury to a ligament, the tough, fibrous tissue that connects
bones to other bone. Ligament injuries involve a stretching or a tearing of this
A strain is an injury to either a muscle or a tendon, the tissue that connects muscles to
bones. Depending on the severity of the injury, a strain may be a simple
overstretch of the muscle or tendon, or it can result in a partial or complete
Sprains A sprain typically occurs when people fall and
land on an outstretched arm, slide into base, land on the side of their foot, or
twist a knee with the foot planted firmly on the ground. This results in an
overstretch or tear of the ligament(s) supporting that joint.
Common Types of Strains
Ankle Sprains The ankle is one of the most
common injuries in professional and recreational sports and activities. Most
ankle sprains happen when the foot abruptly turns inward (inversion) or outward
(eversion) as an athletes runs, turns, falls, or lands after a jump. One or more
of the lateral ligaments are injured.
Wrist Sprains Wrists are often sprained
after a fall in which the athlete lands on an outstretched hand.
Signs and Symptoms of Sprains The usual signs and
symptoms of a muscle sprain include pain, swelling, bruising, and the loss of
functional ability (the ability to move and use the joint). Sometimes people
feel a pop or tear when the injury happens. However, these signs and symptoms
can vary in intensity, depending on the severity of the sprain.
Grade I Sprain: A grade I (mild) sprain causes overstretching or
slight tearing of the ligaments with no joint instability. A person with a mild
sprain usually experiences minimal pain, swelling, and little or no loss of
functional ability. Bruising is absent or slight, and the person is usually able
to put weight on the affected joint.
Grade II Sprain: A grade II (moderate) sprain causes partial
tearing of the ligament and is characterized by bruising, moderate pain, and
swelling. A person with a moderate sprain usually has some difficulty putting
weight on the affected joint and experiences some loss of function. An x-ray or
MRI may be needed.
Grade III Sprain: A grade III (severe) sprain results in a
complete tear or rupture a ligament. Pain, swelling, and bruising are usually
severe, and the patient is unable to put weight on the joint. An x-ray is
usually taken to rule out a broken bone. This type of a muscle sprain often
requires immobilization and possibly surgery. It can also increase the risk of
an athlete having future muscles sprains in that area.
When diagnosing any sprain, the doctor will ask the patient to
explain how the injury happened. The doctor will examine the affected joint,
check its stability and its ability to move and bear weight.
Strains A strain is caused by twisting or pulling a
muscle or tendon. Strains can be acute or chronic. An acute strain is caused by
trauma or an injury such as a blow to the body; it can also be caused by
improperly lifting heavy objects or overstressing the muscles. Chronic strains
are usually the result of overuse - prolonged, repetitive movement of the
muscles and tendons.
Common Types of Strains
Tendonitis ( inflammation of a tendon)
Contact sports such as soccer, football, hockey, boxing, and
wrestling put people at risk for strains. Gymnastics, tennis, rowing, golf, and
other sports that require extensive gripping can increase the risk of hand and
forearm strains. Elbow strains sometimes occur in people who participate in
racket sports, throwing, and contact sports.
Two Common Elbow Strains
Tennis Elbow (lateral epicondylitis)
Golfer’s Elbow (medial epicondylitis)
Signs and Symptoms of Strains Typically, people with a
strain experience pain, muscle spasm and muscle weakness. They can also have
localized swelling, cramping, or inflammation and, with a more severe strain,
some loss of muscle function. Patients typically have pain in the injured area
and general weakness of the muscle when they attempt to move it. Severe strains
that partially or completely tear the muscle or tendon are often very painful
Strain Severity Strains are categorized in a similar
manner to sprains:
Grade I Strain: This is a mild strain and only some muscle fibers
have been damaged. Healing occurs within two to three weeks.
Grade II Strain: This is a moderate strain with more extensive
damage to muscle fibers, but the muscle is not completely ruptured. Healing
occurs within three to six weeks.
Grade III Strain: This is a severe injury with a complete rupture
of a muscle. This typically requires a surgical repair of the muscle; the
healing period can be up to three months.
When To See a Doctor for a Sprain or Strain
You have severe pain and cannot put any weight on the injured joint.
The area over the injured joint or next to it is very tender when you
The injured area looks crooked or has lumps and bumps that you do not see
on the uninjured joint.
You cannot move the injured joint.
You cannot walk more than four steps without significant pain.
Your limb buckles or gives way when you try to use the joint.
You have numbness in any part of the injured area.
You see redness or red streaks spreading out from the injury.
You injure an area that has been injured several times before.
You have pain, swelling, or redness over a bony part of your foot.