Sprains and Strains, What’s the Difference?

Sprains and strains are common injuries that have similar signs and symptoms. However, they are not the same diagnosis. The big difference between sprains and strains is that one effects ligaments, and the other effects muscles and tendons. Ligaments are fibrous bands of tissue that connect bone to bone at joints. Our tendons connect muscles to bone, helping with strength and movement. While both sprains and strains are painful, and can be serious injuries, it’s good to know the difference between the two.

A sprain is defined as occurring when extreme stress is placed on a joint. Ankle sprains such as ACL tears are the most common, and occur when walking on uneven ground and the ankle “twists.”

To heal a sprain, the initial treatment is to follow the RICE acronym: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Treatment may include utilizing durable medical equipment like a splint to keep the injured site stable or crutches to refrain from putting weight on the injury. An ice pack or heat can be applied frequently following the injury for 10-20 minute increments to help to decrease pain and swelling.

An ace bandage can be applied to the injured site to assist with decreasing swelling as well as to provide the joint or muscle support and stability. Keeping your sprained part of the body elevated above the heart will assist with reducing the swelling.

Strains occur when a muscle becomes stretched too far or too abruptly, but also from repetitive movements of a muscle. The symptoms of both sprains and strains can be similar and usually include pain, swelling, bruising, and limited mobility at the site of the injury. You may feel symptoms such as hearing a “pop” at the time of injury of a sprain. Muscle spasms may occur following a strain. Ice is also a good first method for treating a strain, although in both cases you should get the opinion of a medical professional.

While sprains and strains often do not need immediate or emergency medical attention, you should take weight off the affected area and treat it as soon as possible. In some severe cases for both sprains and strains, surgery may be needed to repair torn muscles, tendons, or ligaments.

If you have sustained a sprain or strain and have questions or would like to be evaluated by our experienced orthopedic surgeons call OrthoUnited at our North Canton office at (844) 469-2663 or use our online appointment request form.