Sprain vs. Strain: What's the Difference?

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What is the difference between a sprain and a strain?

Sprain vs. Strain: What's the Difference?

Sprains and strains are extremely common sports injuries, accounting for 4.5 million doctor visits a year. Over one-third of those are active adults between the ages of 25-44, and men have a 30% greater chance than women of experiencing a sprain or strain. So what is the difference? A sprain:

  • Affects ligaments, which are the fibrous tissues that attach one bone to another, and can result in instability of the joint involved
  • Occurs when a joint is moved beyond its normal range of motion or forced into an unnatural position
  • Ranges in degrees, classified based on what percentage of the ligamentous fibers are involved
  • Means that some or all of the fibers are overstretched or possibly torn
  • Frequently involves the ankle, knee or fingers
A strain:

  • Affects muscles or tendons, the ropy ends of the muscles that attach the muscle to the bone it moves
  • Ranges in severity, from general soreness or stiffness to an actual disruption of the integrity of the muscle
  • Is classified depending on how many and how extensively the muscle fibers are torn
  • Can occur when a muscle is made to work extra hard to overcome an unusual amount of resistance
  • May affect any muscle in the body at any time, but will usually occur in the one most involved in the activity you're doing
Most sprains and strains resolve easily, perhaps with a little treatment. But if the injury is more severe, or your sports-related goals run the risk of being compromised, work with a qualified trainer or physical therapist to reach an optimal level of function.



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