What is a strain?

Muscle strains are when impact or physical exertion causes the muscle fiber to pull or tear. It’s the result of the muscle not being properly prepared for physical activity. This can mean one of two things: the muscle is under-utilized and thus not strong or flexible enough to safely accomplish what it was being made to do, or the muscle is overexerted and thus not rested enough to safely accomplish was it was being made to do.

What is a sprain?

In contrast, a sprain is damage to the ligament that keeps a joint together. Ligaments are crucial to movement because they stabilize the joint that they are attached to. Sprains commonly occur in the joint that does the most activity. For example, basketball players will most likely sprain their ankles because of the constant foot and leg movement required in the sport. Sprains also commonly occur from overstretching a joint, as when weight is applied to an outstretched arm.


Our bodies work hard day after day, so an occasional strain or sprain isn’t uncommon. Certain situations make you more likely to injure your joints. These include:

  • athletic activities or exercise, including running or jogging
  • accidents, such as falling or slipping
  • lifting heavy objects
  • overexerting yourself
  • sitting or standing in an awkward position
  • prolonged repetitive motion

Treating Sprains and Strains

  • First Aid continues afterward with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). These are the keys elements in the treatment of both sprains and strains.
  • An athlete who sprains the ACL of their knee may need to have surgery to reconstruct the ligament, but an elderly patient who is less active may not need such an aggressive approach and physical therapy may be all that is needed to return to their previous level of activity.
  • Full muscle and joint mobility may take time to return, and gradual stretching may be required to return the injured area to normal.
  • Mild strains and sprains might only require a few days of healing, while severe strains will require several weeks of healing before returning to your normal routine. Consult with your physician before you begin any strenuous activity after an injury.
  • To help reduce swelling, a person can wrap the affected area with a bandage or trainer’s tape. Loosen the wrap if the area gets numb or if the pain increases.
  • Keep the injured area raised above chest level if possible.


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