Sprains & Strains: All about These Musculoskeletal Injuries

runner with sprain

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Sprains and strains are common injuries that affect the musculoskeletal system. They can occur to anyone, from athletes to everyday individuals. Despite being prevalent, many people do not understand the differences between a sprain and a strain, their causes, symptoms, and treatment. 

Read on as we share with you comprehensive information about sprains and strains, their causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Understanding Sprains and Strains

A sprain is an injury that occurs when a ligament is stretched or torn, while a strain occurs when a muscle or tendon is stretched or torn. Ligaments are tough, fibrous tissues that connect bones to each other, while tendons are strong, fibrous cords that attach muscles to bones. Both sprains and strains can range from mild to severe, depending on the extent of the injury.

The Causes

Sprains and strains can occur due to various reasons, including physical activity, accidents, and overuse. Sports activities that involve jumping, running, and sudden stops or changes in direction are common causes of sprains and strains. Moreover, accidents such as falls, car crashes, and industrial mishaps can also cause sprains and strains. 

Overuse is another common cause of sprains and strains. This occurs when a particular muscle or joint is used repeatedly without adequate rest and recovery time. For example, a runner who increases his mileage too quickly may strain his calf muscles, while a computer programmer who types for long hours without taking breaks may develop a repetitive strain injury in his hands.

The Symptoms

The symptoms of sprains and strains can vary depending on the severity of the injury. Mild sprains and strains may cause minor discomfort and swelling, while severe injuries can result in significant pain and loss of function.

Common symptoms of sprains include pain, swelling, bruising, and limited mobility. Sprains can also cause a popping sound during the injury, which indicates that a ligament has torn.

Symptoms of strains include pain, swelling, muscle spasms, and weakness. Strains can also cause a noticeable deformity in the affected muscle or tendon.

The Diagnosis

To diagnose a sprain or strain, a healthcare provider will perform a physical examination and may order imaging tests such as X-rays, MRIs, or ultrasounds. During the physical exam, the provider will assess the range of motion, strength, and stability of the affected joint or muscle. Imaging tests can help identify the extent of the injury and rule out other potential causes of pain and swelling.

The Treatment

The treatment for sprains and strains depends on the severity of the injury. Mild injuries can be treated at home with the RICE method, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Resting the affected muscle or joint, applying ice to reduce swelling, using compression bandages to support the injury, and elevating the injured limb above the heart can all help reduce pain and inflammation.

Moderate to severe injuries may require medical intervention, such as immobilization with a brace or cast, physical therapy, or surgery. In some cases, medication such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or pain relievers may be prescribed to manage pain and inflammation.

The Prevention

Preventing sprains and strains involves taking proactive measures to reduce the risk of injury. This includes warming up before physical activity, wearing appropriate footwear and protective gear, using proper techniques during exercise or sports, and avoiding overuse or sudden changes in activity level. Strengthening exercises and flexibility training can also help improve joint stability and reduce the risk of injury.


Sprains and strains are common injuries that can cause pain and limit mobility. Understanding the differences between a sprain and a strain, their causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention can help individuals take proactive steps to reduce the risk of injury and manage symptoms if an injury occurs. By following safe exercise and activity guidelines, individuals can maintain a healthy and active lifestyle while reducing the risk of musculoskeletal injury.