Sprain vs Strain: Difference and Comparison

When we talk about the two medical-related terms, sprain and strain, it is commonly understood that they are perfectly synonymous and can be easily used in place of each other. However, saying that would be quite a mistake.

The terms sprain and strain are partially similar to each other in the sense that they both mean a stretch or a tear. However, we cannot call them entirely similar because of the fact that the stretch or tear in both sprain and strain occur in different parts.

Key Takeaways

  1. Sprains are injuries to ligaments, the fibrous tissue that connects bones, caused by a sudden twisting motion or impact.
  2. Strains occur when muscles or tendons, the tissue that connects muscles to bones, are stretched or torn due to overuse or sudden force.
  3. Treatment for both sprains and strains includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE), but the affected body part and specific symptoms will differ.

Sprain vs Strain

An injury to the ligaments and capsule around a joint is referred to as a sprain. In it, ligaments are overextended or ripped. You can experience bruising around the injured joint if you have a sprain. While an injury to muscles or tendons is known as a strain. Strain may cause muscle spasms.

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Even though both of them mean a stretch or a tear, the difference in the part they occur makes them distinct.


Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonSprainStrain
MeaningA sprain is a stretch or a tear in a ligament.A strain is a stretch or tear in a muscle, a tendon, or both.
Distinguished SymptomsBruising is a symptom of the sprain.Muscle spasm is a symptom of a strain.
ReasonSprains can occur during sports or recreational activities.Strains occur as a result of injury, improper lifting of heavy objects, or overstressing the muscles.
DiagnosisDiagnosis includes various clinical tests performed by a doctor.Diagnosis includes examining if the muscle hurts while contracting or stretching.
TreatmentTreatment includes physical therapy by a physical therapist, the R.I.C.E treatment, which includes Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, and gentle motion exercises.Treatment includes rest, initially, followed by PT exercises and Strengthening exercises.


What is Sprain?

A sprain is when a ligament is stretched or torn. Ligament refers to the thing bands of cartilage which aid in joining bones at the joints.

It mainly occurs during sports or recreational activities.

They have different severity grades. In the Grade I sprain, the ligament is just overstretched, while Grade II portrays a partial tear of the ligament.

Grade III, or final grade, involves the ligament is completely torn.

They may lead to significant swelling, pain and bruising. They also lead to limited flexibility in the affected area and pose difficulty in using the joint’s full range of motion.

Screening tests like X-Rays and MRI Scans are used to determine sprains after evaluating the symptoms.

Mild sprains can be treated with a technique called R.I.C.E, which refers to Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Severe sprains may need to be treated with surgeries in order to repair the damaged or torn ligament.

Mild sprains become all the better within almost a couple of days, if not less. A moderate injury may require around a week to get normal.

Furthermore, a severe injury involving treatment through surgery may need a lot more time to heal.


What is Strain?

Strains refer to the stretching or tearing of muscles or tendons or both. Tendons refer to the fibrous cords of tissue, highly dense in nature, which joins the muscles with the bones.

It mainly occurs as a result of an injury or improper lifting of heavy objects and over-stressing of the muscles.

Similar to sprains, they also have different severity grades. Grade I would indicate just the overstretching of the muscle tissue, and Grade II will involve partially tearing the muscle tissue.

Grade III, or final grade, involves the full-thickness tears to the muscle tissue.

To diagnose a mild strain, the examiner can check if contracting or stretching causes muscle pain while diagnosing severe strains; screening tests like X-Rays or MRI scans may be required.

Like mild sprains, mild strains can also be treated with the R.I.C.E technique, while severe ones would require regularly monitored exercises or may even need surgery to be performed.

And again, similar to sprains, severe strains may require a longer time to heal and get better, whereas mild ones may heal in a couple of days to one week, depending on the intensity of the strain.


Main Differences Between Sprain and Strain

Sprain and Strain are commonly used in place of each other. Even after literally meaning the same, there is a noticeable difference between the two owing to the parts where they occur.

  1. Sprain and Strain both literally mean s stretch or a tear, but a sprain occurs in ligaments, whereas a strain occurs in muscles or tendons or both.
  2. The reasons behind a sprain and a strain also differ. A sprain occurs during sports or recreational activities, while strain occurs as a result of an injury, improper lifting of heavy objects or overstressing of the muscles.
  3. Both of them can be diagnosed with similar yet different techniques. Sprains need screening tests, like X-Rays or MRI Scans, to be diagnosed. For strains, mild ones can be diagnosed by examining if contraction or stretching of the muscle hurts, while severe ones require similar screening tests.
  4. The R.I.C.E technique can be used to treat mild sprains and strains. However, severe sprains would require surgeries, and severe strains could be treated through either monitored exercises or surgeries.
  5. Sprains lead to bruising with pain, and strains lead to muscle spasms with pain.
Difference Between Sprain and Strain
  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sprains/symptoms-causes/syc-20377938
  2. https://www.medicinenet.com/sprained_ankle/article.htm

Last Updated : 11 June, 2023

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