Sprain vs. Strain. Have you ever been to the doctor, and when the doctor asked what is wrong all you can do is say something like, “My ankle hurts”? It’s not a bad thing to not be a medical professional. It is very helpful however to understand the difference in injuries that occur, so you can know to what extent they need to be treated.

I always recommend seeing a doctor if you feel like you need to. If you do hurt your ankle, seeking medical attention is a good thing to do. Look for a place that specializes in the feet and ankles, like Teton Foot and Ankle Center, with trained professionals who can diagnose and treat your injury.

Parents should be aware of the difference so they can make sure their kids get the right treatment. It is important that they get the care they need, but sometimes they just aren’t able to communicate an accurate opinion on what is wrong. (Cue toddler screaming at unreachable decibels after they fall and realize you saw it happen.)

Sprains and strains are commonly confused, and rightfully so. They are very similar injuries and have similar symptoms. Here is a basic breakdown of the difference.

Sprains Vs. Strains


blue feet sprained ankle

When you think of twisting your ankle, this is it.

A sprain is where the ligaments in the body are overstretched due to a movement. In more serious sprains this can lead to a partially or completely torn ligament.

Twisting, falling, bending, etc. can all lead to a sprain.

Many times you will experience a popping feeling with a sprain as if a ligament had torn.

There will likely be bruising, swelling, and pain. It may be hard to move the injured area as well.

Minor sprains can be treated simply with ice and minimal use as there is likely no structural damage.

If the ankle looks quite swollen and is very painful, then it is a good sign that you need medical attention.


Strains are very similar to sprains, only they exist in the muscles and tendons. Minor strains are usually just muscles or tendons that were stretched too far, like pulling a hamstring. Severe strains can lead to partial or complete tears of the muscle or tendon.

This may manifest itself much the same as sprains. Bruising, swelling, limited movement, and pain are all potential signs of a strain. Strains can occur from overuse, or simply repeated use of a muscle.

It is more likely to happen if your posture or technique is poor, but even those without posture problems can experience strains.

A way you can try and tell the difference is that a sprain involves an injured ligament, so it will hurt at a joint where bones meet.

A strain will hurt along the muscle that was affected. It isn’t always easy, but this can sometimes help identify the difference.

strained ankle

It is important to make sure that a break in the bone did not occur. This usually requires seeing a doctor. If the injury seems to be severe and persists, make sure you get in to see a medical professional ASAP. They can diagnose and treat your injury, and get you back on your feet in no time.

Bottom Line

Sprains vs. strains are two of the most common injuries that people experience. Though they may sound similar, there is a big difference between the two.

A sprain is an injury to a ligament, while a strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon. Sprains are more common than strains and can be caused by everything from a sports injury to tripping on something.

Strains are typically caused by overuse or repetitive motions. Both sprains and strains should be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). See a doctor if you think you have either of these injuries.

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