How to Define a Strain vs. a Sprain

define strain

Many people consider a sprain and a strain to be the same thing. In reality, these are two separate types of injury.

While they both have to do with soft tissue damage in a joint, often due to tearing or over-stretching, there are key differences between each term. Knowing what they are can help you identify your injury and seek the appropriate treatment.

Often we may hurt ourselves but don’t know what’s wrong. Here is how to define strain vs. a sprain injury when you’re not sure.

Define Strain and the Symptoms

Strains are often mistaken for sprains as the symptoms of a strain and sprains are very similar. Mostly, because the injuries themselves are very similar. 

So how can you tell if your injury is a strain? 

A strain is a stretching or tearing injury of tendons or of muscles themselves vs a sprain which is an injury to the ligament connecting the bones of a joint. 

Some common symptoms of strains are:

  • Swelling
  • muscle spasm
  • limited flexibility
  • pain around the affected joint
  • unable to use the joint’s full range of motion.

The legs and lower back are two common places in the body where muscle and tendon strain occurs most often. But you can also have a strained ankle. 

Ankles have two tendons—the peroneal and acute tendons—that are injured the most and are commonly strained.

The peroneal tendons are what help to protect the ankle and keep it secure. When there is overexertion or uncommon force peroneal tendons can become swollen and inflamed.

When acute tendons undergo overexertion or sudden force they can tear and become injured. 

A Strain vs. Sprain: Which is Worse?

Out of the two injuries, sprain vs. strain, a sprain is the worst one. A sprain is the stretching or tearing of ligaments that connect your joints

It is important to know the difference between a ligament vs joint. A ligament is the band of fibrous tissue that connects two bones or holds together the joint. A joint is a connection made between bones that allow for different degrees and types of movement. 

A bad sprain will affect the mobility of the joint. 

Some other symptoms are:

  • pain around the affected joint
  • bruising
  • limited flexibility
  • swelling
  • hearing or feeling a “pop” in your joint when injured
  • hot to touch

The main difference in symptoms between a sprain vs. strain injury is that you may have bruising around the affected joint and with a strain you may have spasms in the injured muscles. 

The most common area for a sprain is the ankle. You can also sprain fingers, wrists, knees and foot arches. And just as difficult as it is to tell the difference between a strain and sprain it is also difficult to differentiate between sprains and fractures.

Whatever the injury it is important to seek medical treatment quickly to avoid even worse symptoms. 

Seek Medical Care for Any Strain or Sprain Injury

Common activities such as athletic activities, exercise, lifting heavy objects or prolonged repetitive motion can cause a strain or sprain.

Doctors will diagnose a sprain or strain with an X-ray to rule out any breaks or fractures. If they cannot define strain or sprain as your injury from an X-ray they will use an imaging test called an MRI.

If you suspect you have a strain or sprain don’t wait until your injury worsens and becomes harder to heal. Consult a doctor today at Oxford Urgent Care.