Sprains and strains

Sprains and strains are common injuries that share similar signs and symptoms, but involve different parts of your body.

A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments — the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect two bones together in your joints. The most common location for a sprain is in your ankle.

A strain is a stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon. A tendon is a fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones. Strains often occur in the lower back and in the hamstring muscle in the back of your thigh.

Initial treatment for both sprains and strains includes rest, ice, compression and elevation. Mild sprains and strains can be successfully treated at home. Severe sprains and strains sometimes require surgery to repair torn ligaments, muscles or tendons.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Prevention

Signs and symptoms will vary, depending on the severity of the injury.


  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Limited ability to move the affected joint
  • At the time of injury, you may hear or feel a "pop" in your joint


  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Muscle spasms
  • Limited ability to move the affected muscle

When to see a doctor

Mild sprains and strains can be treated at home. But you should see a doctor if you:

  • Can't walk more than four steps without significant pain
  • Can't move the affected joint
  • Have numbness in any part of the injured area

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