Sprains and Strains

So you’ve been out running, biking, gardening, golfing or rollerblading and something hurts. First, good for you for listening to your body. Now, let’s figure out if it’s a sprain or a strain. Both sprains and strains are common injuries that share similar signs and symptoms, but each involves different parts of the body.

sprains and strains


A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments, the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect one bone to another in your joints. Sprains often occur in the following circumstances:

  • Ankle: walking or exercising on an uneven surface
  • Knee: pivoting during an athletic activity
  • Wrist: landing on an outstretched hand during a fall
  • Thumb: skiing or playing racquet sports, such as tennis

Your symptoms will vary depending on the severity of the injury, and typically include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Limited ability to move the joint
  • At the time of injury, you may hear or feel a “pop” in your joint


A strain is a stretching or tearing of a muscle or tendon, a fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones. There are two types of strains: acute and chronic.

An acute strain occurs when a muscle becomes strained or pulled – or may even tear – when it is stretched unusually far or abruptly. Acute strains often occur by:

  • Slipping on ice
  • Running, jumping, throwing
  • Lifting a heavy object or lifting in an awkward position

A chronic strain results from prolonged, repetitive movement of a muscle. This may occur on the job or during sports, such as gymnastics, tennis, rowing and golf.

Signs and symptoms of strains include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Muscle spasms
  • Limited ability to move the affected muscle


Early and proper management for an injury is very important; early intervention leads to faster and better outcomes. For immediate self-care of a sprain or strain, protect and rest the injured area, use a tensor bandage to compress and (if possible) raise the injured area above the heart. In most cases beyond a minor sprain or strain, you’ll want your health care provider, such as a chiropractor, to help you with this process. After the first 48 hours, slowly start to use the injured area again. If you are unsure of the severity of your injury, always consult your healthcare provider for an evaluation.

Source: Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors