A Chiropractic Perspective on Sprains vs. Strains

sprainA common question people like to ask chiropractors is this: “What’s the difference between a sprain and a strain?”

Although the words are similar, they both denote very different injuries to the musculoskeletal system. Both injuries are common but the similarity of the words makes them a frequent source of confusion.

Body Parts

First off, sprains and strains each affect different parts of the body.

A sprain is defined as a stretch or tear of a ligament that the body uses for joint stability.

A strain, on the other hand, is a stretch or tear of muscle or tendon in an area of the body where tendon transforms into muscle. 


Another difference between the two is that sprains and strains are caused by different actions. For example, a sprain is caused by falling or twisting a body part in the wrong direction, which forces a joint beyond its range of motion resulting in a stretch or tear of the ligament. Typical accidents that lead to sprains are twisting an ankle, falling down stairs, or slipping on an icy walkway and catching yourself on your hands and wrists.

In contrast a strain is caused by repetitive movements that lead to overextension and trauma. This can be caused by actions like lifting an overly heavy item, overstraining oneself while exercising, or making too many repetitive movements of one body part while playing sports or working. 

An easy way to remember the difference between sprains and strains is to recognize that sprains are the result of falls and sudden twisting motions. For this reason, sprains affect ankles, wrists, knees, and fingers and other parts of the body with rotating or flexing joints. 

Strains, however, are most common in larger areas of the body like the back, shoulder, or hamstrings. These are body regions most likely to be affected by repetitive motion injuries and overexertion. 


Yet, there are similarities to sprains and strains beyond just their similar sounding names. These similar symptoms are part of the reason why they are often confused for each other. For example, both of these injuries cause swelling, inflammation, pain, and limit the range of motion in the affected area. The pain felt will be mild to severe depending on the degree of the injury. Both of these types of injury respond favorably to ice packs, rest, and elevation. Chiropractic care is an excellent form of treatment for both sprains and strains.

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