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Strains v. Sprains: What’s the Difference? 

We’ve all heard someone say they sprained their ankle, while referring to ankle pain without a fracture or break. And it’s all too common for people to use the words strain and sprain interchangeably. But did you know that while these two ways to injure a joint may sound similar to one another, they actually mean completely different things? So what’s the difference between a sprain and a strain? We dive into the details below. 


The Definitions

A joint sprain refers to overstretching or tearing of a ligament – the connective tissue that keeps your bones connected. As you may already know, the most common sprains occur in the ankle. 

On the other hand, a joint strain refers to the overstretching or tearing of a tendon – the fibrous tissue that connects your muscles. Most often, strains occur in the hamstring or the lower back. 

When you have joint or muscle pain and you know nothing is broken, it can be difficult to determine whether you’re suffering from a sprain or a strain. Thankfully, you can turn to your symptoms to help you decide. 


Decoding Your Symptoms

While similar, sprains and strains do have a couple of symptoms that set them apart. Though it’s easy to confuse the two, symptoms of a sprain include:

  • Bruising
  • Limited Range of Motion
  • Swelling
  • Pain in the affected joint


Common symptoms of a strain include:

  • Muscle Spasms
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty moving the affected area
  • Pain


The main difference between these two conditions is a sprain is often characterized by bruising around the joint, where a strain is commonly associated with muscle spasms. 


What Causes a Sprain or Strain? 

Both sprains and strains are relatively common, as they’re simply a byproduct of how much we move in our day to day lives. However, certain scenarios can increase the likelihood of an injury, including:

  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Prolonged repeated motion
  • Sleeping, sitting or standing in an uncomfortable position
  • Playing sports without conditioning beforehand
  • Running, jogging or other high impact exercise
  • Having an accident, like a slip or a fall


Get Help For Your Joint Pain at Minivasive Pain

At Minivasive Pain, we specialize in orthopedics and pain management, and it is our mission to treat the causes of your pain with both the highest standards of care and quality. With several locations throughout the Houston area, caring for your joint aches and stiffness is easy. To learn more, or to schedule an appointment, visit or call us at (346) 800-6001.