Sprains and Muscle Strains

Sprains or strains can occur in almost every location on the body. The most common places people have complained from are strained back or neck muscles, sprained ankles, fingers and legs caused by rolling an ankle while running, skiing injuries, face planting into the sand during surfing, and trampoline accidents.

If you’ve had a sprain or strain, you know that being educated on the nature of the injury is key. First, it’s important to understand the difference between a “strain” and a “sprain”.


A sprain occurs in ligaments – the shorter structures which hold one bone to another bone. You don’t have any control over ligaments. If you remove all your muscles, you’ll see that underneath it all, they’re basically the rubber bands that hold your bones together. Ligaments receive a relatively low blood supply, so even when they’re injured, swelling can take days and even weeks to occur. This is why people who sprain their neck from whiplash in car accident don’t feel much pain at first, but then a few days later wake up unable to move their neck or back. The swelling sometimes takes longer and unfortunately so does the healing.


A strain occurs in muscles and tendons- the structures which contract and allow for body movement. Muscles and tendons receive constant blood supply. Since swelling is basically increased blood flow to an injured area and the muscles receive a lot of blood, swelling and pain occur quickly in strained muscles. Besides sudden traumatic injuries, muscles can also be strained slowly from overuse in sports, holding a position or posture for too long, or from prolonged fine motor activity such as when using a computer mouse or typing.

The Signs and Symptoms

Sprains: While the intensity varies, pain, bruising, swelling, and inflammation are common to all sprains whether they are mild, moderate or severe. The individual can usually feel a tear or pop in the joint. A severe sprain produces severe pain at the time of injury, as ligaments tear or separate from the bone.  A moderate sprain partially tears the ligament, producing joint instability, and swelling. A ligament is stretched in a mild sprain, but there is no joint loosening.

Strains: The typical symptoms include pain, muscle spasm, muscle weakness, swelling, inflammation, and cramping. In severe strains, the muscle and/or tendon is partially or completely torn which will often debilitate the individual. Some muscle function will be lost with a moderate strain, where the muscle/tendon is overstretched and slightly torn. With a mild strain, the muscle/tendon is stretched or pulled, slightly.

When the muscles that support the spine are twisted, pulled, or torn, the result is a back strain. Athletes who engage in excessive jumping or movement (during basketball, volleyball, or surfing) are vulnerable to this injury.

A hamstring muscle strain is a tear or stretch of a major muscle in the back of the thigh.. The likely cause is muscle strength imbalance between the hamstrings and the muscles in the front of the thigh, the quadriceps.


  • Ice/heat
  • Ultrasound
  • Electrical Muscle Stimulation
  • Chiropractic adjustments
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Kinesiotape
  • Nutritional and herb remedies to reduce inflammation

Prevention Tips

Here are some tips developed by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons to help reduce your risk of sprains and strains:

  • Do stretching exercises daily
  • Participate in a conditioning program to build muscle strength
  • Always wear properly fitting shoes
  • Nourish your muscles by eating a well-balanced diet
  • Warm up before any sports activity, including practice
  • Use or wear protective equipment appropriate for that sport

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