Pain Causes Strains And Sprains

Though considered to be relatively minor injuries, strains and sprains can be debilitating and extremely painful. Luckily, however, there are ways to prevent sprains and strains and also ways to lessen the pain caused by these types of injuries.

Sprains and Strains: What’s the Difference?

The basic difference between a sprain and a strain is the part of the body the injury affects:

  • Sprains affect ligaments.
  • Strains affect muscles and tendons.

The Definition of a Sprain

A sprain results when a ligament, the cartilage that connects a bone to a joint, is injured. Most often, the injury occurs when the ligament is forced to go beyond its flex capability. Sprains often happen in sports and dance, where running, jumping and coming into contact with others can put sudden, strong force on ligaments. Sprains most often happen to:

  • ankles
  • knees
  • wrists.

A sprain can cause:

  • bruising
  • loss of mobility of the affected joint
  • swelling
  • varying degrees of pain.

Sprain Treatment

Treatment for sprains often includes staying off the affected joint completely (which may require crutches), keeping the injury elevated and applying ice. In severe cases, surgery may be required to repair the injury. Pain medication such as Advil® may be recommended to help with pain and swelling.

In order to allow the body to completely heal, a person recovering from a sprain should not overexert himself. While a person with a sprain will often regain general mobility in a relatively short period of time, the joint will require additional time to heal. After a sprain, a person should return to normal activities slowly.

Also, it is very important to follow through with any rehabilitation or physical therapy your doctor may order for an injury in order to fully heal the ligament and protect from future injury.

Avoiding sprains can be difficult, given that they are often an accidental, and incidental, part of sports. However, there are a few steps you can take to reduce your risk of injury:

  • Wear proper safety gear and supports for your sport.
  • Work on flexibility as well as strength training.

The Definition of a Strain

Contrary to what some people believe, strains are not just an athlete’s injury. Muscle strains can happen to anyone and can result from a number of situations, from being in a car accident to pulling weeds while gardening. In addition, strains can result from a single incident or can develop over time from doing the same thing or motion over and over. When a strain results from the latter, it is called a repetitive strain injury.

The results of a strain can be felt right away, though some strains may not be felt until a later incident triggers pain or spasms. In fact, a person who strains his back might not feel any pain for hours or even days after the original strain. Often the pain occurs while the person is doing something mundane and not at all strenuous, like bending over or picking up a laundry basket.

Treating and Avoiding Strains

Strains can be a minor inconvenience or extremely painful and debilitating. Not only can use of the affected muscle be impaired, but surrounding muscles may also go into painful spasms.

To treat a strain, you must get ample rest and relaxation and avoid using the affected body part. This can be difficult if you lead an active lifestyle. However, some acute strains will dictate your activity level, since they can make it difficult to move at all.

While some strains can clear up after one or two days, others can present a chronic problem and will require lifestyle and activity changes.

It may sometimes be necessary to visit a doctor or chiropractor for adjustments or physical therapy. Pain medication may also be advisable, from over-the-counter options to prescription pain medications and muscle relaxers. Check with your doctor for a professional recommendation.

Avoiding strains may be a bit easier than avoiding sprains. Here are a few tips:

  • Be aware of any repetitive motions you may do in your work or leisure activities (such as typing) and ask your doctor how to help minimize the danger of repetitive strain injuries.
  • Exercise on a regular basis in order to build strength and reduce the risk of injury.

In addition, you should be aware of your back at all times, as it is easy to pull a muscle by neglecting to use your legs to lift heavy items. Follow these steps when lifting to avoid back strains:

  1. Place your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lower yourself to the ground by bending your knees. Make sure to keep your back straight.
  3. Keep your stomach muscles tight.
  4. Grasp the object firmly and close to your body.
  5. Lift the object using the muscles in your legs, keeping your back straight at all times.
  6. If the object is too heavy to lift without straining, seek help.


Health A-Z (2007). Sprains and Strains. Retrieved August 28, 2007, from the Health A to Z Web site:

Mayo Clinic (2007). Sprains and Strains. Retrieved August 28, 2007, from the Mayo Clinic Web site:

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (2007). Retrieved August 28, 2007, from the National Library of Medicine Web site: