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Symptoms and Signs of What Is the Difference Between Sprains and Strains?

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 occur. 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.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Sprains and Strains Symptoms

Sprains tend to have symptoms more localized to the injured joint. When the joint is injured, it's possible to feel a tear or pop in the joint. Pain is usually immediate, and depending on the severity of the injury, it may not be possible to use the joint. Signs and symptoms of sprains include

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

Strains, whether acute or chronic, have symptoms localized to the muscle groups or tendons that are injured. Pain can be over a small area, or a larger area, such as a group of muscles. Pain can be immediate in an acute strain, or it may be delayed in the case of an overuse injury. Signs and symptoms of strains include

  • pain,
  • inflammation,
  • muscle spasm,
  • muscle cramping,
  • muscle weakness, and
  • bruising may occur but may be delayed for several days.

Sprains and Strains Causes

A sprain is usually caused by trauma to a joint (the space between bones). Twisting or forces overstretch the ligaments (such as hyperextension or hyperflexion) and can cause tears in the ligament tissue, which can be graded from mild to severe depending on the amount of damage. Sprains can happen when people twist an ankle or knee or fall on an elbow or shoulder. A strain is usually the result of overstretching or overuse of muscles and tendons. An acute strain can be the result of sudden twisting or trauma to the muscles or tendons. Chronic strains are the consequence of overuse of muscles and tendons, such as with athletes who train constantly and do not rest adequately.

Pain-Relief Tips for Bumps, Bruises, Sprains, and Strains in Pictures Slideshow

Pain-Relief Tips for Bumps, Bruises, Sprains, and Strains in Pictures Slideshow

Strains happen when you injure a muscle or tendon -- the fibrous tissue that attaches muscle to bone. Sprains occur when you hurt a ligament, which connects the end of one bone to another. For both injuries, the answer is often RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

REFERENCE:

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

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