A sprain is a stretch of a ligament, which is the hard band of connective tissue that connects the end of one bone to another. Ligaments work to stabilize and support the joints in the body.  A sprain has three categories: mild, moderate and severe, and the symptoms below can appear in any case.

A strain is an injury to a muscle. Tendons are the cords of tissue that attach muscles to bone. Tensions are usually caused by overuse of a muscle or tendon. A strain has three categories: mild, moderate and severe.

Strain and Sprain Grades

There are different grades of muscle strains, ranging from grade I to grade III.

  • Grade I muscle strains indicate that the muscle tissue is simply overstretched.
  • Grade II muscle strains occur when the muscle tissue is partially torn.
  • Grade III strains are full-thickness tears through the muscle tissue. These typically are considered severe and are accompanied by significant pain, swelling, bruising, and functional mobility loss.

Causes of sprains

  • walking or running on an uneven surface
  • twisting or pivoting suddenly
  • falling and landing on the wrist or hand
  • playing racquet sports
  • injuries from contact sports

Causes of acute strains 

  • lifting a heavy object
  • running, jumping, or throwing
  • slipping or falling


Common symptoms of sprains Common symptoms of strains
• bruising
• pain around the affected joint
• swelling
• limited flexibility
• difficulty using the joint’s full range of motion
• muscle spasm
• pain around the affected joint
• swelling
• limited flexibility
• difficulty using the joint’s full range of motion

The main difference is that with a sprain you may have bruising around the affected joint, whereas with a strain, you may have spasms in the affected muscle.


  • Rest: Stay off the affected joint, or try not to use it while it heals. This will give the joint time to heal.
  • Ice: Ice helps reduce swelling and inflammation. Never apply ice directly to your skin. Instead, wrap a thin towel or piece of clothing around a bag of ice. Leave it on the affected area for 20 minutes, then remove the ice for 20 minutes.
  • Compression: Compression will help reduce the swelling. Wrap the affected joint in a bandage or trainer’s tape. Do not wrap too tightly, however, or you can reduce the blood supply.
  • Elevation: Try to keep the affected joint elevated above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling. If your knee or ankle is affected, that may mean you need to stay in bed or on the couch for up to two days after your injury.


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