Symptoms and Signs of Sprains and Strains

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 10/29/2021

Doctor's Notes on Sprains and Strains

A sprain is an injury to the ligament (tissue that connects bone to bone) while a strain is an injury to muscle or tendon (tissue that connects muscle to bone). Signs and symptoms of sprains include

  • pain,
  • swelling,
  • bruising,
  • instability of the joint and
  • decreased range of motion of the joint.

Signs and symptoms strains include

  • pain,
  • inflammation,
  • muscle spasm,
  • muscle cramping,
  • muscle weakness and bruising may occur.

Both injuries can be acute or chronic.

Sprains and strains share causes. Both can be the result of sudden twisting motion or trauma that results in overstretching ligaments, muscles and/or tendons. Chronic sprains and strains occur with overuse of ligaments, muscles and/or tendons. For example, athletes who train constantly and do not allow the body time to heal.

What are the treatments of sprains and strains?

Treat both with RICE therapy:

  • Rest - stop activity that resulted in injury; don’t put weight or force onto injured area
  • Ice - apply an ice pack to injury (wrapped in a towel) for about 20 minutes every 2-3 hours
  • Compression - wrap elastic bandage around the injury
  • Elevate - keep injured area raised above the level of your heart

RICE therapy may reduce bleeding and swelling of the area; most people treat strain and/or sprain pain with over-the-counter pain medicines. If you are not sure that the injury is severe, see a medical caregiver. 

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.