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Strain or Sprain: What is the Difference?

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These two words get thrown around a lot but what do they mean and what is the difference? The single answer is that strains affect muscles and tendons; sprains affect ligaments.

Strains result from injuries of the muscle or tendon, the thick bands that attach muscles to bones. This strain happens often in athletics and working out but can also occur in daily movement. If you’ve ever twisted your ankle when walking on an uneven surface or stepping off a curb you have probably strained you ankle. Or, if you’ve ever moved too quickly as a reaction to an event, you have strained your back, your arm or another muscle involved in the quick, reactive movement.

Strain is a quick tear, twist or pull of a muscle. The muscle has been overstretched or over-contracted. The common symptoms are pain, weakness and spasm of the muscle.

Sprains are an acute type of injury that can result from trauma like a fall or an accident causing a misalignment or displacement of the joint. Sprains affect ligaments, the thick bands of cartilage that attaches the bones together. These sprains can vary in severity from a mild over-stretch of the ligament (ligamentous) to a complete tear. Following a sprain the area affected may cause bruising, swelling, instability and it is painful to use.

Treatment is: Protect, Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate (P.R.I.C.E.)

For strains resulting from fitness or sports, the reality is that you probably should have stretched before exercising to prevent the strain in the first place. But, you never know when you’re going to pull a muscle in daily activity or twist your ankle. Health professional recommend the PRICE method for treatment.

P stands for Protect. Prevent further injury by avoiding activities that will further aggravate the pained muscle.

R stands for Rest. If you’ve injured a leg muscle, use common sense by sitting down rather than standing. And, if you’re taking a pain reliever, don’t be fooled into thinking that your muscle does not need rest.

I is for Ice. Icing is the best way to reduce swelling and prevent more injury. Ice the area as soon as possible after the injury. Try to ice the strain for 15 – 20 minutes once an hour. Bags of frozen peas and corn work well because you can bend the bag more easily than a bag of cubes. Do not apply heat to muscles for the first 24 hours.

C is for Compression. Depending upon the location of the strain, try to bandage the injured area with an adhesive or ace bandage. Wrap to inhibit movement of the muscle so that there is a gentle pressing.

E stands for Elevate. Get the muscle above the heart. If your strain is in the leg or foot, place pillows under it; if it is in the arm, sit upright and rest it on the back or arm of the couch. Elevation reduces swelling and this promotes healing.

Although the treatment for sprains and strains is basically the same, sprains can be more serious. Sprains may require a longer period of rehabilitation and the attention of a physician. The physician may suggest pain medication, splint or crutches depending upon the location and severity of the injury.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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