Strain Vs Sprain: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment Options

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Sport woman - runner holding painful sprained ankle in pain. Female athlete with joint or muscle soreness and problem feeling ache in her lower body
Source: Unlimphotos Sport woman - runner holding painful sprained ankle in pain. Female athlete with joint or muscle soreness and problem feeling ache in her lower body



While playing sports or simply moving items around in your home, we can sometimes get painful injuries. Most often it is important that you get your injury evaluated by a doctor, especially if the area gets worse over a small period of time. But, we sometimes also try not to overreact. If the pain is minor, we’d rather do some home remedies and wait for the pain to go away. For a minor strain in the ankles, for instance, it can be treated at home. But, if it’s a sprain, you’ll be much better off taking advice from a professional. 

In this article, we will go through the symptoms of each to give you an idea of what kind of injury you’re having and how you can treat it.

Understanding strains

This is usually an injury to your muscles or tendons. These injuries tend to happen when you overwork a muscle/tendon or it simply overstretched. The injury can range from very mild pain to severe pain, which happens when the tendon or muscle tears. 

Strains can become chronic pain over time, especially if ignored. By continuing to push the affected muscle on a daily basis, you will eventually develop worsening complications. 

Symptoms of strains:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Inflammation
  • Spasming of the muscle
  • The muscle(s) feel weak
  • Cramping

Playing sports or physical activity is the main reason behind strains. Activities such as soccer or boxing will put pressure on your hamstring which can cause strain on that muscle over extended periods of time. Even activities like tennis or gymnastics which require you to grip something for long periods of time can cause strains in your hand or forearm.

Understanding sprains

A sprain typically occurs when you tear or overstretch a ligament. The ligament’s job is to support and stabilize your body’s joints. When these joints are pushed out of position due to external forces, it can cause a sprain. Depending on the severity of the injury, you may feel a pop in the joint at the moment of impact. The most common area for a sprain is the ankle.

Symptoms of sprains:

  • Bruising
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Instability
  • Sometimes unable to move or put weight on the affected area

A sprain injury can occur in many areas of your body. The reason ankle sprains are very common is that the ankle joint has many internal and external ligaments holding it in place. It is very easy to twist your foot inwards while running or landing from a jump, which can lead to an ankle sprain. 

You may be wondering which is considered to be worse than the other? In truth, both types of injuries can be traumatic and painful, and we cannot say one is acutely worse than the other. Depending on the severity, you will need medical help to ease the pain and reduce the long-term symptoms.

How to treat these injuries

The treatment you will need will depend on the severity of the injury. This can usually be determined by how much pain you’re in, but it is always safe to get checked out by a professional, especially if you’re constantly involved in sports and physical activity.

Once you sustain these injuries, the following are the first steps you should take. This works for both sprains and strains.

  • Rest – The first step is to avoid any physical activity for about 24 – 48 hours. You may find it difficult to put any weight on that area. Try to stay in bed for as long as possible, giving your body time to heal. 
  • Ice – An ice pack on the affected area feels good and helps with the swelling. Apply an ice pack for 20 minutes at least 4 times a day. Don’t keep the ice pack for longer than 20 minutes, as it can cause worse problems.
  • Compress – Use a compression bandage on the injured area to reduce swelling. You can get these at a local drug store or from your healthcare provider.
  • Elevate – Try to keep the injured limb elevated on a pillow. This can again help with reducing the swelling in the area.

Remembering the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) formula can help you deal with these injuries in the short term until you see a medical professional. For worse injuries, you will require medication, a cast, or even surgery, so to be completely sure, visit your local healthcare center!

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While at times contributed by guest authors, our content is medically reviewed periodically by professionals for accuracy and relevance. We pride ourselves on our high-quality content and strive towards offering expertise while being authoritative. Our reviewers include doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, and even medical students. 

Do note that any information found on the site does not constitute legal or medical advice. Should you face health issues, please visit your doctor to get yourself diagnosed. Icy Health offers expert opinions and advice for informational purposes only. This is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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