Strain or Sprain: What’s the Difference? 10 Tips

It is common for people to interchange the use of the terms strain and sprain. Many can thus not differentiate between the two leading to interchanging them when referring to the tear or overstretching of soft tissues. However, they are different even though the symptoms of the two conditions tend to be very similar. Nonetheless, to get relief for any of them, seeking medical help is an excellent option. Even though it is a small emergency, one can contact Frontline ER for queries or even visit one of their facilities.

What is a sprain?

A sprain entails the tear or overstretching of ligaments. Ligaments can be described as the tissue present in a joint, which are responsible for connecting two bones.

How a sprain happens

A sprain usually occurs when someone is hit, falls, or twists in a manner that leads to the body getting out of its normal position. The most prevalent experience of a sprain is usually at the ankle. Thousands of people sprain their ankle on a daily basis. Other common sprains occur at the wrist or thumb.

What is a strain?

A strain involves the tear or overstretching of tendons or muscles. Tendon is a term that refers to the dense tissue that is responsible for connecting bones to muscles.

How a strain happens

Strains are most common in athletes that engage in contact sports like boxing, football, or hockey. Nonetheless, even those in noncontact ones can get strains owing to repeating the same motions constantly. They include tennis, rowing, or golf. Such injuries can also occur when you visit a gym. Moreover, strains can arise at home or the workplace if one engages in the heavy lifting of things. The most common incidence of this condition is at the lower back or the hamstring muscle.

Cause of swelling and pain

The treatment of sprains and strains usually entails a reduction of the swelling and pain one is experiencing as a result of the injury. Swelling is often the first reaction of the body for healing any injury. Normally, white blood cells and fluid rush to the damaged tissue causing inflammation as they try to repair and protect it from more damage. However, the fluid could lead to a compression of the nerves in the injured body part and bring about pain.


For medical practitioners to determine if one has a sprain or strain, they must initially exclude other causes for the symptoms. A doctor will begin with a brief physical exam. It may lead to an X-ray being requested. This process will aid in ruling out any fractures or breaks. If the X-ray results are not conclusive, the doctor may require that one does an MRI test. It will give the doctor a very detailed representation of the joint. It could even reveal thin or small breaks that cannot be evident when using an X-ray. Nevertheless, if both tests do not show any breaks, the doctor will then determine if it is a sprain or strain.

What the doctor will do

If one is proven to have a sprain, the doctor could prescribe wearing a temporary cast or splint. They will aid in supporting and protecting the affected area. Pain medication may also be included in the prescription. One will also have to rest the affected area and not play any sports until one is fully healed.

For a strain, the doctor will likely tell you to rest the affected body part. Pain medication could also be prescribed.

The RICES treatment method

The RICES treatment method outlines five steps that should be taken to treat both injuries.

  • Rest

Unpainful movement of the affected area is imperative. Thereby, one should resist from putting weight on the injury for a protracted time.

  • Ice

Ice should be applied rather than any heat to the affected area. It should be done for about twenty minutes every hour until the swelling reduces.

  • Compression

One should wear an elastic wrap for the initial 36 hours to aid in minimizing the swelling.

  • Elevation

One should rest the injured part above heart level for about two hours each day to help in reducing the swelling.

  • Stabilization

The affected area should be stabilized until medical care becomes available.

Essential questions to ask at the healthcare facility

It is imperative to have an understanding of one’s condition and what is needed for one to recover quickly. Therefore, knowing what the injury is, activities one can engage in, pain medications one is allowed to take, duration of the recovery, and expected duration for one to go back to full activity.

How to prevent them

When engaging in a new program or recovering from an injury, it is important to start slow and have rest days. Refusing to let the body recover will only lead to either injury occurring.

In summary, sprains and strains are injuries that occur around the body, but they are different since they define dissimilar conditions.


More Posts

The Importance of Urgent Care

Urgent care centers are a vital part of the healthcare system. They provide convenient, affordable, and quality care for a wide range of minor illnesses

Common Urgent Care Conditions

These are just a few of the common urgent care conditions. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to see a