What is a Sprain or a Strain?
A Sprain is an injury that affects ligaments (strong bands of tissue that connect bones to one another and stabilize joints).  When excessive force is applied to a joint, the ligaments that hold the bones together may be torn or damaged.  This results in a sprain, and its seriousness depends on how badly the ligaments are torn.
A Strain is an injury that affects muscles (tissues composed of cells that enable the body to move), or tendons (strong connective tissue that link muscles to bones.  Strains occur in response to a quick tear, twist, or pull of the muscle.  They are an acute type of injury that results from overstretching or overcontraction.  
Did you know…?

  • Sprains and strains are common.  Anyone can have them.

  • Any joint can be sprained, but the most frequently injured joints are the ankle, knee, and finger.

  • Sometimes called pulled muscles, strains usually occur because of overexertion or improper lifting techniques.

  • Children under age eight are less likely to have sprains than are older people.  Childrens’ ligaments are looser, and their bones are more apt to break before a ligament tears.

  • People who are active in sports suffer more strains and sprains than less active people.

  • Repeated sprains in the same joint make the joint less stable and more prone to future sprains.

Causes and Symptoms of Sprains and Strains


There are three grades of sprains.  Grade I sprains are mild injuries where there is no tearing of the ligament, and no joint function is lost, although there may be tenderness and slight swelling.

Grade II sprains are caused by a partial tear in the ligament.  These sprains are characterized by obvious swelling, extensive bruising, pain, difficulty bearing weight, and reduced function of the joint.

Grade III, or third degree, sprains are caused by complete tearing of the ligament where there is severe pain, loss of joint function, widespread swelling and bruising, and the inability to bear weight.  These symptoms are similar to those of bone fractures.


Strains result from overuse of muscles, improper use of the muscles, or as the result of injury in another part of the body when the body compensates for pain by altering the way it moves.  Strains can range from mild muscle stiffness to great soreness.  Other symptoms may include weakness or muscle spasms.


Basic first aid for acute sprains and strains consists of RICE:

  • Rest
  • Ice for 72 hours
  • Compression (wrapping in an elastic bandage)
  • Elevation of the sprain above the level of the heart.

Over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) can be taken for pain.

Physiotherapy is needed to restore the strength and flexibility of the joint.