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Sprain vs Strain: How to Tell The Difference

Updated: Nov 11




Although the two words sound similar and are often used interchangeably, there is a critical difference between sprains and strains. Knowing the difference can help you identify joint sprains and strains.


What's the Difference Between a Sprain vs. Strain?


A joint sprain results from the overstretching or tearing of ligaments. Ligaments are bands of tissue that connect bones within the joints. A joint strain, however, results from overstretching a tendon, which are tissues that link your bones to your muscles.

Sprains and strains both result in pain, swelling, limited flexibility, and limited range of motion. The primary difference is that with a sprain, you may experience some bruising around the affected joint, whereas with a strain, you may have spasms in the affected muscle.


What causes a sprain or strain?


These are some of the most common causes of sprains and strains:

  • Walking or running on an uneven surface

  • Twisting or pivoting suddenly

  • Prolonged repetitive motion

  • Injuries from athletic activities

  • Lifting a heavy object

  • Running, jumping, or throwing

  • Slipping or falling

  • Overexerting yourself

How can a physiotherapist treat strains and sprains?


The RICE technique is commonly used to treat mild strains and sprains. RICE stands for:

  • Rest: Protect the area from additional strain by stopping any physical activities and avoiding putting weight on the affected limb.

  • Ice: Apply ice to the injury for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours. If you do not have ice packs, bags of frozen vegetables also work.

  • Compression: Wrap the affected area with a bandage or trainer's tape to help reduce swelling. If the area gets numb or the pain increases, loosen the wrap.

  • Elevation: Try to keep the injured area raised above chest level.

If the RICE treatment does not work, or the pain persists or worsens, you should see a doctor.


Physiotherapists in Coquitlam and Port Moody can help you recover from your sprain or strain while preventing future injury. Your physiotherapist will typically start with pain-relieving treatment, such as ice and heat therapies, manual therapy, electrical nerve stimulation, stretching, or ultrasound therapy. These treatments will help to reduce pain, improve strength, and increase coordination.


Your physiotherapist will also provide targeted exercises and stretches to help you prevent injuries in the future.


At Inspine Therapy, our licensed chiropractors in Port Moody and Coquitlam are trained to conduct a comprehensive assessment of your condition and create a tailored treatment plan based on your needs.

Book an appointment on our website with one of our physiotherapists at our Port Moody or Coquitlam location today!

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