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How Is Muscle Sprain Different From Muscle Strain?

Sprain and strain are 2 terms which are mostly used for the same injury involving a twist in the ankle or a pulled hamstring. But there are quite a lot of differences between Sprain and Strain.

How Is Muscle Sprain Different From Muscle Strain?

Differences Between Muscle Sprain and Strain Based on Their Definition

Sprain. A muscle sprain is stretching or tearing of the band of tissue, which connects the bones together.

Strain. A muscle strain is an injury (stretch or tear) to the muscle or the band of tissue which attaches the muscle to the bone.

Differences Between Muscle Sprain and Strain Based On Their Occurrence

Sprain. Sprains occur after a fall, twist or hit to the body in such a way that it falls out of position. Any forceful movement which leads to stress on the ligament can lead to a sprain. The most commonly occurring sprain is that of the ankle and knee. Wrist and thumb sprain can occur while performing sports like skiing.

Strain. Strains are caused by high-velocity force against the muscle, which may lead to a sudden movement which may cause the muscle to overstretch and contract within a short time period, leading to mild or severe tear of the muscle tissue. Strain is common in sports, such as hockey, boxing and football. Doing a motion over and over again can also lead to strain, such as in tennis, golf or rowing. A lot of heavy weight lifting can also strain the tendons.

Differences Between Sprain and Strain Based on the Symptoms & Grading

Sprain. Sprains are graded in the following way.

Grade-1 Sprain. A sprain is graded ‘Grade 1’ if only a ligament is simply stretched. The patient suffering from Grade-1 Sprain experiences minimal pain, swelling, but there is no loss of functional ability. There is slight or no bruising and the patient is able to put weight on the affected joint.

Grade-2 Sprain. A partial tear in the ligament if present, is categorized as Grade-2 of sprain. In grade-2 sprain, there is bruising, moderate pain, and swelling present. The patient finds it difficult putting weight on the affected joint. There may be a slight loss of function in grade-2 sprain.

Grade-3 Sprain. A sprain is graded as 3 when there is a completely torn ligament. Pain, bruising and swelling is severe in this grade-3 sprain. The patient is not able to put weight on the sprained joint. Sprain in this grade might require immobilization and even surgery.

Strain. Strains occur by twisting or pulling of the muscle or the tendon. They are graded as.

Acute Strain. Acute strains are caused by an injury such as a blow on the body or improper lifting of the heavy objects.

Chronic Strains. Overuse prolonged or repetitive movement of the muscle and tendons lead to chronic strains.

Most common strains are back strain, hamstring strains, tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow and tendonitis.

Strains are also graded as follows.

Grade-1 Strain. This is a mild strain with damage to a few muscle fibers. The healing usually occurs within two to three weeks.

Grade-2 Strain. The second grade of strain involves extensive damage to the muscle fibers, but the muscles are not completely ruptured. Healing time of grade-2 strain is three to six weeks.

Grade-3 Strain. If there is severe injury and complete rupture of muscles, which require a surgical repair, it is a grade-3 strain. The healing period of grade-3 strain can extend up to six months.

Differences Between Sprain and Strain Based on their Diagnosis

The sprain and strain are differentiated and diagnosed by the doctor by performing a physical exam and asking signs and symptoms experienced by the patient. A fracture is ruled out by performing an x-ray or MRI.

Differences Between Sprain and Strain Based on their Treatment

Sprain. The patient suffering from sprain benefits from physical therapy. There are various techniques, which a physical therapist may apply to improve the pain, swelling, and the overall range of motion in a sprain.

The initial treatment of sprain follows the R.I.C.E principle, which involves Resting the affected joint, application of Ice with Compression and Elevation.

P.O.L.I.C.E principle is another way of sprain treatment followed by some physical therapy, which involves Protection, Optimal loading, Ice pack, Compression, And Elevation

The range of motion exercises for treating sprain is usually started a few days after the injury. Active and passive movement of the sprained joint help keep the things moving when they are in the healing process. Some may even require wearing a brace during the initial phase of treatment.

Strengthening exercises as advised should be done to help support the sprained joint where the ligaments are injured.

Grade-3 sprains might require surgery to stabilize the joint.

Strain. The initial treatment for a strain is rest, which depends on the severity of the injury. This may help in building the collagen bridges and the scar tissue, which may develop into healthy muscle tissue. Ice packs may help ease the pain and swelling caused by strain.

Once the healing takes place, physical therapy exercises start, which may help gently stretch the strained muscle tissue. Strengthening exercises are performed to build the muscle tissue in the area of strain. The exercises started should progress gradually, as the basic goal is to generate the capacity of the injured muscle so that they come back to performing the previous level of function. Muscle strains recover completely in about six to eight weeks.


A correct diagnosis of the injury; whether sprain or strain, is necessary to plan out accurate treatment. Therefore, if you have pain or immobility after an injury, consult a doctor and a physical therapist to determine whether it is a sprain or a strain, so that they can work on the treatment for you to recover at the earliest.


  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (2019). Sprains, Strains, and Other Soft Tissue Injuries. Retrieved from https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/sprains-strains-and-other-soft-tissue-injuries/
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2021). Sprains and Strains. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sprains-strains/symptoms-causes/syc-20377938
  3. Cleveland Clinic. (2021). Sprains and Strains: What’s the Difference? Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15050-sprains-and-strains-whats-the-difference
  4. University of Rochester Medical Center. (2021). Strains and Sprains. Retrieved from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=1496
  5. American Physical Therapy Association. (n.d.). Sprains, Strains, and Tears. Retrieved from https://www.choosept.com/symptomsconditionsdetail/physical-therapy-guide-to-sprains-strains-and-tears

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 17, 2023

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