What is it?
Sprains and strains are common injuries that share similar signs and symptoms, but involve different parts of your body.
A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments — the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect one bone to another in your joints. The most common location for a sprain is in your ankle.
A strain is a stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon, a fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones. Strains often occur in the lower back and in the hamstring muscle in the back of your thigh.
Initial treatment for both sprains and strains includes rest, ice, compression and elevation. Mild sprains and strains can be successfully treated at home. Severe sprains and strains sometimes require surgery to repair torn ligaments, muscles or tendons.
Signs and symptoms will vary, depending on the severity of the injury.
- Limited ability to move the affected joint
- At the time of injury, you may hear or feel a "pop" in your joint
- Muscle spasms
- Limited ability to move the affected muscle
A sprain occurs when you overextend or tear a ligament while severely stressing a joint. Sprains often occur in the following circumstances:
- Ankle. Walking or exercising on an uneven surface
- Knee. Pivoting during an athletic activity
- Wrist. Landing on an outstretched hand during a fall
- Thumb. Skiing or playing racquet sports, such as tennis
There are two types of strains: Acute and chronic. An acute strain occurs when a muscle becomes strained or pulled — or may even tear — when it stretches unusually far or abruptly. Acute strains often occur in the following ways:
- Slipping on ice
- Running, jumping or throwing
- Lifting a heavy object or lifting in an awkward position
A chronic strain results from prolonged, repetitive movement of a muscle. This may occur on the job or during sports, such as:
Factors contributing to sprains and strains include:
- Poor conditioning. Lack of conditioning can leave your muscles weak and more likely to sustain injury.
- Fatigue. Tired muscles are less likely to provide good support for your joints. When you're tired, you're also more likely to succumb to forces that could stress a joint or overextend a muscle.
- Improper warm-up. Properly warming up before vigorous physical activity loosens your muscles and increases joint range of motion, making the muscles less tight and less prone to trauma and tears.
X-rays can help rule out a fracture or other bone injury as the source of the problem. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) also may be used to help diagnose the extent of the injury.