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Strain or Sprain? Know the difference.

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

People generally use the words “strain” and “sprain” identically when describing a tear, but these types of injuries are actually quite different. They are similar by mechanism as they happen when the muscle or ligament is overstretched, overloaded (too much weight) or overused (repetitive strain), but to truly understand the nature of these injuries, it is important to know what part of the body is being injured.


A Ligament is connective tissue made of fibers that connect bone to bone in order to stabilize

your joints. A Tendon is connective tissue made of fibers attached to the ends of your muscles

that connect a muscle to a bone. Sprains refer to a tear in the fibers of a Ligament, whereas a

Strain describes a tear in the fibers of a Muscle or Tendon.

Severity of Strains/Sprains:

The severity of these injuries is characterized by 3 grades.


A very basic but effective way to prevent injury is to properly warm up and cool down. One of the most common mistakes people make is stretching incorrectly and not knowing the difference between dynamic stretching (before) and static stretching (after).

And by the way, R.O.M. means “Range of Motion”.


Regardless of the severity, the initial self-treatment should involve the acronym R.I.C.E. This stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation.

Rest - Rest is important in order to ensure the healing process is successful and to avoid further injury.

Ice - Apply ice in intervals of 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off (never more than 20 minutes). This decreases inflammation and speeds up the healing process.

Compression - Use a bandage to compress the area which also helps the healing process by draining the area of unwanted toxins.

Elevation - Keep the injured area elevated as close to heart level in order to aid circulation and further enhance the healing process.


Beyond treating yourself, the types of treatment depend on the severity of your injury. If you experienced a Grade 1 tear, you do not need any immediate medical attention and sometimes these injuries will even resolve themselves. If the pain/problem persists, you should see a physiotherapist for treatment. As for Grades 2-3, it is important to seek medical attention and afterwards, physiotherapy.

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