Whenever a person gets musculoskeletal injuries there is confusion whether it is a strain or a sprain. Your physician or physical therapist will easily let you know the difference between a sprain and a strain and what is the proper treatment for each of them.

What is a strain?

Strains affect the muscles or tendons, the bands that attach a muscle to the bones. Strains occur when there is a sudden tear, twist or pull of the muscle. They are acute injuries that can be caused due to overstretching or over contraction. The symptoms of such strains include pain, weakness and muscle spasms.

What is a sprain?

Sprains mostly affect the ligaments, the thick bands of cartilage that attach bone with bone. A stretch or tear in this ligament causes a sprain. Sprains are acute injuries that can be caused by a trauma like fall or an outside pressure that displaces a joint from its normal alignment. They can be a mild ligament stretch or a total tear. The symptoms of sprain include bruising, swelling, instability and painful movement.


We usually visit a doctor when after a trauma like a fall we feel some of the symptoms of muscle strain or a sprain like pain and swelling in body parts. It is always advisable to see a doctor since there may be hidden problems that cannot be detected without medical help.

Visit a doctor at once when you experience:

  • I Significant swelling in the body part after an injury
  • I Some marked bruising
  • I Pain is extreme
  • I Severe movement difficulty
  • I No improvement in symptoms even after few days of rest

How are strain and sprain diagnosed?


Muscle strain can be usually diagnosed by a doctor after examining a patient if the patient’s muscle hurts when you contract it and if the muscle hurts if you stretch it.

Closer examination of the injury may reveal tenderness, bruising, and swelling. Imaging tests like X-ray will show the bones near the injury and an MRI will show the muscle strain and help understand its severity.


Ligament sprain can be diagnosed through clinical tests and examination by a doctor. There may we warmth and swelling of the ligament and they are the signs of inflammation. Some special tests like anterior drawer test for ACL in the knee or the ankle is done by pulling your joint to test if excessive mobilily is present. An MRI may be advised for to determine the grade of sprain.

What are the treatments for Strain & Sprain?

Rest is the main treatment for any strain. Ice can be applied to the affected area to reduce pain and swelling. Rest will ultimate let the tissues heal and build collagen bridges and scar tissue that can develop into healthy muscle tissue.

Once some healing has taken place then strengthening exercises may be performed to rebuild the muscles tissue. Muscle strains typically heal within six to eight weeks, though severe strains take longer.

Sprains are treated with physical therapy. A physiotherapist may help you by using various techniques to improve pain, swelling and movement in the area. Resting, compression and applying ice to the area can improve the condition.

How to prevent sprains and strains?

Most of the muscle strains and ligament sprains can be prevented through proper exercise and neuromuscular training.

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