Difference Between Sprain and Strain

Strain and sprain are both causes of stretching beyond its functional capacity. Both conditions cause bruising, severe localized pain and tenderness. Pain medication, first aid methods, surgical correction, or semi-rigid immobilization may be necessary depending on the severity. Immediate medical care should be sought if there is severe pain, injured area looks crooked, or if you cannot move the joint or bear weight on the injured limb and it gives way.


Strain is an injury to muscle tendons or muscle fibers due to stretching beyond its functional capacity. It is also known as “pulled muscle”. While this can occur in everyone during routine day to day tasks, athletes are at a higher risk of strains due to rigorous exercise. Elbow, back and hamstrings are commonly strained in athletes. Strain can be due to a powerful sudden impact (acute) or due to continuous high intensity stretching (chronic). Strain can cause stiffness, pain while contracting the muscle in question, and bluish discoloration (bruising) over the area.

The diagnosis is clinical. X ray and ultrasound scan may be used to assess the extent of the injury and exclude underlying fractures. Protecting the bruise with padding is important to avoid repeated trauma. Resting the joint and muscle will promote healing. Applying ice will reduce blood flow to the area and reduce swelling. Compression bandages also reduce swelling. Elevation of the area will stop fluid stagnation at the injury site and reduce pain. Pain medications that will reduce clotting (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) should not be given because it will increase bleeding, pain and bruising. If the injury is severe, hospitalize the patient and sedative pain killers should not be given before hospitalization because they will interfere with assessment.


Sprain is an injury to the joint and associated ligaments due to stretching beyond its functional capacity. While this can occur in routine activities, athletes are at a higher risk. A sedentary life style, general muscle and ligament fatigue, not warming up before strenuous exercise are known to lead to sprains. Inactivity can limit range of motion at joints and lead to sprain at a lower stretch threshold. Warming up stretches the ligaments in a safe environment without subjecting it to sudden powerful forces increasing the blood supply and making the ligaments more flexible. Sprains can occur at any joint, but are commonly seen associated with ankle, knee (anterior cruciate ligament injury, collateral ligament injuries are most often heard about), wrist fingers and toes. Sprain is classified according to the extent of involvement of the ligament.

Diagnosis is made clinically and may be sometimes assisted by an x ray to exclude associated fractures. Ice applied immediately after the injury reduces the blood supply to the area, swelling and pain. Compression bandage applied in such a way that more pressure is applied distal to the joint will limit fluid accumulation, provide support and protection. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be avoided.

What is the difference between Sprain and Strain?

• Strain is a stretch related injury of muscle while sprain is an injury of joints and ligaments.

• Strains are common around back, hamstrings, and elbow while sprains are common in ankles, knees and wrists.