Sprains vs. Strains: What’s the Difference?

Posted on September 29th, 2015 by Orthopaedic Specialty Group

Sprains and strains are common sports injuries which are easily confused, and for good reason – they are both soft tissue injuries, they share similar signs and symptoms, and there is only a one-letter difference between the actual words.

Although many people use them interchangeably, the fact is that they are different injuries. Read below to learn the distinction between the two.


A sprain is an injury which involves the tearing or stretching of a ligament. Ligaments are a type of soft tissue that connects two bones and provides stability in your joints. Sprains happen when a joint is pushed past its normal range of motion, such as twisting your ankle.


Strains happen when you damage a muscle or tendon (soft tissue that connects muscle to bone) in your body. Strains are categorized into two types: acute and chronic. Acute strains are sudden occurrences, such as a sprinter straining their hamstring in the middle of a stride. Chronic strains, on the other hand, happen over a long period of time due to overuse of the muscle.

Both strains and sprains are classified into three levels of severity:

  • Grade I – Mild. The soft tissue is usually over-stretched.

  • Grade II – Moderate. The soft tissue has been significantly overstretched, with a partial tear.

  • Grade III – Severe. The ligament, tendon, or muscle is completely ruptured.

Grade I and II strains and sprains can fully heal using the RICE method; rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Sometimes, immobilization may also be required in order for the soft tissue to return to full strength. Grade III sprains and strains, on the other hand, will often need to be surgically repaired.

If you are suffering from a sprain or strain, get the help you need. OrthoFast is an urgent care walk-in clinic specializing in orthopedic injuries. We have locations in Milford and Fairfield, Connecticut, and offer shorter waiting times and lower co-pays than standard emergency rooms. Simply come in during our office hours and see what we can do for you – click here for more information.