Sprains and Strains

Sprains and strains share many common symptoms, but they are actually different conditions.
Sprains refer to the damage that occurs when your ligaments (which connect bones to bones) are stretched or torn.

Sprains can be caused by any kind of physical impact to your joints (usually twisting or getting hit) and usually occur in the ankle or wrist.

Strains refer to the tearing or stretching of muscles or tendons (which connect muscles to bones) and are usually caused by twisting or pulling.

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Pain, swelling and limited mobility are the most common indicators of both sprains and strains. A sprain might be accompanied by a bruising sensation, or you might notice a “pop” sound in the joint.

Who is at Risk?

Most ligament, tendon and muscle damage occurs during physical activity when the participant is fatigued, poorly conditioned or not sufficiently warmed up. It is important to let sprains and strains completely heal before resuming sports, because the risk of re-injury is very high with these conditions.

Treatment of Sprains and Strains

The basic treatment for sprains and strains is what’s commonly referred to as the RICE method:

  • Rest

  • Ice

  • Compression

  • Elevation


Sometimes, a physician might direct use of a splint or brace to keep the injured area immobilized and allow it to heal. Certain over-the-counter medications can help decrease inflammation and relieve pain. Only the most severe cases (usually sports-related) require surgery.

Emergency Warning Signs

If you are suffering from numbness or severe immobility, you should seek medical help quickly. Tell your doctor right away if you have red streaks radiating from the affected area. Repetitive injury of the same area should also be addressed by a medical professional.

This page offers general health information to facilitate discussion with your telehealth provider. You must not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

If this is a medical emergency, please call 911. For mental health emergencies, call 988.

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