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Sprain vs. Strain

The terms get used interchangeably but they are two different problems

Sprain vs Strain

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What's the difference

  • A sprain is an injury to the ligament, a piece of tissue that connects the bones of a joint

  • A strain is an injury to the muscles or tendons, the tendons are the fibrous tissues that connect the muscle to the bone

Both sprains and strains consist of over-stretching or tearing of the tissue.

What are the symptoms of a sprained ligament?

Sprains are graded based on how much tissue is injured:

  • Grade 1: The ligament is stretched with little to no tearing

  • Grade 2: The ligament has more tearing, causing the joint to become loose 

  • Grade 3: A complete tear of the ligament that may result in a very loose or unstable joint

Common symptoms of a sprain are:

  • Hearing a pop or feeling a pop when the injury occurs

  • Mild swelling

  • Bruising

  • Pain or discomfort

  • Redness

  • Difficulty using the joint

Generally, the more severe sprains result in more significant swelling, pain, sense of looseness and inability to use the joint. 

Can sprained ligaments heal?

It depends! The location and the severity of the sprain matters.


The location determines the amount of blood supply and hence the ability to repair itself. For example, the ankle ligaments have a good blood supply hence great healing potential with the right care and have a good chance of returning to a normal functioning state. But, deep in the knee joint are the ACL and PCL ligaments, which don't have such a good bloody supply, have a more difficult time with healing. A more severe sprain such as a grade 3 or complete tear is more likely to require a bit more intervention.

Most sprained ligaments do not require surgery and at Twenty 11 we'll find out if your injury can be managed without surgery. 

In the early phases of healing rest, protecting the joint and gentle movements are best. This is often the hardest part, a return to activity too soon leaves the ligaments vulnerable to re-injury. When the tissue gets a bit stronger we will create a plan for you that will be a gradual progression of treatment and exercises to help you return to what you love doing.

What are the symptoms of a strained muscle?

Strains are also graded on a scale of tissue injury:

  • Grade 1: These injuries have mild damage to individual muscle or tendon fibers

  • Grade 2: These injuries have more muscle or tendon fibers involved

  • Grade 3: These injuries are complete ruptures of the muscle or tendon


Symptoms of a muscle strain can include:

  • pain

  • difficulty moving or loss of movement

  • swelling

  • bruising

Can strained muscles heal?

Sudden strains have very good healing potential and most heal with conservative treatment. The location of the injury and the amount of stress that tissue is expected to withstand and will affect recovery.

Chronic strains can be more tricky and may require a different approach, this is particularly true for tendon injuries. Check out my other blog of TENDONS for more information. 

At Twenty 11 we will work with you to assess the severity and location of your injury. We will uncover some hidden problems that may have led to the injury, tailor a treatment plan for you and prescribe exercises to meet the demands of your lifestyle and to decrease the chance of re-injury.

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