What Is The Difference Between A Sprain And A Strain?
The terms sprain and strain are frequently used interchangeably to describe injuries to the soft tissues of the body. There is however medically a difference between a sprain and a strain. Knowing the difference can help you manage any injury appropriately.
- A sprain is an injury causing stretching or tearing of a ligament. Ligaments are the bands of tissue at your joints that connect bones to bones and they play an important role in the stability of joints. As a result most sprains will result in symptoms that are around joints.
- A strain is an injury causing a stretching, tearing overload to muscle or tendon tissue. Tendons are the tissue that link your muscles to bones. Strains often generate symptoms further away from the joint than a sprain when the muscle is involved and with tendon involvement symptoms may be experienced nearer the joint. In this situation it may be a little harder to distinguish a difference between a sprain or a strain when the tendon is generating symptoms as both tendons and ligaments are in and around joints.
Common Injuries Classified
When referring to common injuries an athlete suffers a “twisted ankle” or doing your “ACL” is a sprain where as a “popped calf” or a “pulled hamstring” is a strain.
What Are The Different Causes Of A Sprain Or A Strain?
Sprains are usually the result of an incident like a fall, or twisting action resulting in forces exerted on the joint that work to push it out of its normal position. An example of such is a basketball player who when landing from a jump comes down landing on another players foot, twisting the ankle “spraining” the ankle ligaments. Sprains are common in athletes involved in contact sports, like soccer, rugby, AFL but also common in relatively non-contact sports like netball and basketball where frequent stop/starts and cutting motions at speed are required. Contact sports see athletes placed in multiple situations where through collisions, tackles and the like joints can be inadvertently forced into non-anatomical positions and ligaments are injured and sprains suffered.
Strains to muscles or tendons may occur when “excessive” load is placed on the muscle-tendon complex. Such injuries are common during sports with activities involving sprinting, lifting, kicking… A dramatic and somewhat easily identifiable example is the 100m sprinter taking off down their lane after the gun has fired only to suddenly pull up clutching at the back of their thigh as if they were shot from behind. In this situation they have most likely suffered a “pulled hamstring” an example of a strain to the hamstring muscles. Common in aging athletes are these sort of dramatic strains, in our Sydney and Randwick physio practices we see a lot of over 30 weekend warrior type athletes who strain their calf muscle playing tennis, netball, or soccer who similar to the sprinter are accelerating in the match and then get a “popping” sensation in the calf muscle and look around looking to see who or what hit them in the back of the leg. Only to realize they have pulled their calf and suffered a muscle strain.
If you think you have suffered a strain or a sprain then at Sydney Physio Clinic we are happy to assess your injury and help guide you through your treatment and get you back to your best as soon as safely possible.
Disclaimer: Sydney Physio Clinic does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products mentioned. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific advice or assistance regarding Is It A Sprain Or A Strain? should consult his or her general practitioner, sports medicine specialist, or physiotherapist.