A qualified sports massage therapist will be used to seeing
a range of injuries, some of which may look similar at first glance. Two
injuries that are often confused by patients are sprains and strains.
In today’s blog, we will look at how sprains and strains
present themselves and the different treatments that can be used to help
Both sprains and strains are classified as soft tissue
injuries and their severity can range from stretching and slight tearing all
the way up to a serious rupture.
What is a sprain?
A sprain is when ligaments are torn or overstretched.
Ligaments are the short bands of fibrous connective tissue that attach one bone
to another, helping to support joints and stabilise the body.
The area around a sprain will swell up and become tender,
and there is usually some bruising. A bad sprain can seriously affect movement,
for example, a severely sprained ankle or knee may prevent you from walking and
a badly sprained wrist may prevent you from being able to pick things up.
What is a strain?
A strain is when a muscle or tendon is torn or
overstretched. Tendons are fibrous collagen tissues that attach muscle to bone.
Like a sprain, a strain can cause pain, swelling and
bruising; it can also cause muscle spasms.
What causes sprains and strains?
Both can be caused by one incident when the ligament, muscle
or tendon has been overused or damaged, or when a client has carried out the
same activity over and over.
Examples of sprains include:
- Someone “turning” their ankle as they are
walking, running or playing sport
- A tennis player damaging their knee ligaments as
they reach to hit the ball
- A skier putting out a hand during a fall,
causing injury to their wrist
- A car accident in which the driver or passenger sustain
whiplash in their neck
Examples of strains include:
- A worker straining the muscles in their arms as
they push or pull a heavy load
- A footballer developing a groin injury during a
- A person lifting a heavy box and straining the
muscles in their lower back
- Torn muscle fibres from repetitive bending of
How are they diagnosed?
In many cases, sprains and strains can be diagnosed by an
examination by a GP or healthcare specialist. If there is some uncertainty, a
healthcare professional may order tests such as an X-ray, MRI or CT scan to
confirm the diagnosis and ensure that there aren’t any other injuries like broken
What is the treatment for sprains and strains?
Initially, the patient should follow the RICE formula of
Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation, whether they are dealing with a sprain or
strain. Anti-inflammatories may also help, although medical advice should be
In most cases the ligaments, muscles or tendons will repair
themselves within days or weeks, and the patient can gradually start using the
affected area again.
If the injury doesn’t heal, it may be necessary for the
patient to have physiotherapy, ultrasound or muscle massage for the affected
area. In some cases, in particular with elite athletes or if the injury is
particularly serious, an operation may be required.
How can they be avoided?
Sprains and strains can be prevented or minimised by:
- Carrying out exercise that strengthens muscles
and develops core stability, such as resistance training
- Carrying out exercise that improves flexibility
and balance, such as dance and yoga
- Following exercise routines developed and overseen
by a personal trainer
- Warming up with dynamic stretches before
- Avoiding repetitive activities or overuse of
particular muscles, tendons and ligaments
- Wearing the right footwear and support for
sporting and gym activity
- Ensuring safety guidelines are followed when
lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling heavy items