Although sometimes used interchangeably, sprains and strains are two different types of injuries resulting from soft tissue damage to the musculoskeletal system. Both strains and sprains result from sudden twists or jolts that apply more force to the tissue that it is able to tolerate.
A sprain is a joint injury that involves tearing of the ligaments and joint capsule. It occurs when a joint is twisted while bearing some weight. An example of a common strain is one that results from twisting an ankle during physical activity and generally, most strains are found in the thumb, ankle and wrist.
A strain however, is an injury to the muscle or tendons. Common sites for sprains include the back and the hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh and are usually related to sport injuries or following other physical activities such as heavy lifting.
Which Do You Have?
So how do you know if you have a sprain or a strain? Again, a sprain occurs in the joint while a strain occurs to the muscle. The primary symptoms of sprains include limited mobility, inflammation, pain, swelling, and bruising while strains are often accompanied by pain, cramping, swelling, muscle spasms, and stiffness or soreness in the muscle.
Both minor sprains and strains can be treated with the RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) method. In addition, over-the-counter pain medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen as well as topical creams and gels can reduce pain and inflammation. Chronic injuries (those that worsen over time) require rehabilitation to strengthen the affected area. In order to limit your risk of further injuries, wrap the affected area or wear a brace when you resume activity.