Difference Between Sprain and Strain

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

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

Sprain vs Strain

The main difference between sprain and strain is that sprain refers to a stretch or a tear in the ligaments, where ligaments refer to the fibrous tissues in the form of tough bands which connect two bones together at the joints. A strain, on the other hand, refers to a stretch or a tear in a muscle or a tendon or both. Tendons are the ones that link the muscles to the bones.

Sprain vs Strain

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


Comparison Table Between Sprain and Strain (in Tabular Form)

Parameter of ComparisonSprainStrain
MeaningA sprain is a stretch or a tear in a ligament.A strain is a stretch or tear in a muscle or a tendon or both.
Distinguished SymptomsBruising is a symptom of sprain.Muscle spasm is a symptom of strain.
ReasonSprains can occur during sports or recreational activities.Strains generally 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 and Elevation and/or 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 partial tear of the ligament.

Grade III or final grade involves the ligament being completely torn.

They may lead to significant swelling, pain and bruising. They also lead to limited flexibility in the affected area and poses a 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 the torn ligament.

Mild sprains become all 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 join the muscles with the bones.

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

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

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

To diagnose a mil strain, the examiner can check if contracting or stretching causes pain in the muscles while diagnosing sever strains, screening tests like X-Rays or MRI Scan may be required.

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

And again, similar to sprains, severe strains may require longer time to heal and get better where the 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 tendon 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, or improper lifting of heavy objects or overstressing 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. To treat mild sprains and strains, the R.I.C.E technique can be put to use. 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



Sprains and strains are something which may occur in the natural course of life. But there are ways to prevent them from happening which involve regular exercise, stretching and taking caution while putting our body into motion.

Apart from that, even if one ends up having a sprain or a strain, it is necessary to approach a doctor as soon as it is realized. This mainly to avoid any further damage to the injury and to ensure that the condition doesn’t worsen than it already might be.

Key Differences Between Sprain and Strain (PDF Format)

Download the key differences in .PDF format, to read or print them later:

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
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