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What Is The Difference Between Sprains And Strains?

Written by Louise Carter


Sprains And Strains


Whilst talking to people on the subject of injuries, people often get mixed up or confused between the difference between a sprain and a strain. So what is the real difference between the two?

 

Sprains are the damage of ligaments, and ligaments are what attach or ‘articulate’ the bones together. The cause of a sprain is due to excessive stretching of a ligament which causes the soft fibrous tissue to tear and cause damage. When talking about sprains there are certain grades which differentiate the severity of the injury.


joint pain


Grade 1:

 

Some but not many ligament/s fibres have been stretched or slightly torn. For example, a ‘grade 1’ lateral ankle sprain would usually cause symptoms such as slight swelling and joint stiffness and tenderness. You would still be able to walk without the pain being unbearable. Healing time can vary between 2 and 3 weeks.


Grade 2:

 

Most ligament/s fibres have been torn but are not completely torn. For example, a ‘grade 2’ ankle sprain would usually cause symptoms such as moderate swelling, bruising, joint stiffness and pain, as well as pain and discomfort when walking. Healing time can vary between 4 and 6 weeks.


Grade 3:

 

This is classified as a complete tear of all the ligament fibres. For example, a ‘grade 3’ tear would cause severe swelling and bruising, joint stiffness, severe pain and an inability to rotate the joint. Healing time can vary between 6 and 12 weeks.

 

Strains are the damage of the fibrous tissue within a tendon, the responsibility of tendons is to connect muscles to bones. The cause of tendon damage is due to micro tears within the tendon causing the strain. When talking about sprains there are also certain grades which are used within the diagnosis to differentiate the severity of the injury.


pain threshold


Grade 4:

 

This is a mild strain where very little tendon fibres have been damaged/torn. The healing time can vary between 2 and 3 weeks.


Grade 5:

 

This is a moderate strain where the damage caused to the tendon fibres are more extensive as an increased volume of the tendons fibres has been damaged/torn. The healing time can vary between 3 and 6 weeks.


Muscle Pain


Grade 6:

 

This is classified as a complete rupture of a tendon and all the tendon fibres have been damaged/torn. Unfortunately, as the damage is too extensive to heal on its own, a complete rupture of a tendon usually requires surgery to repair the tear.

 

When a complete rupture occurs, the person will usually hear a pop. For example, the Achilles tendon attaches to the gastrocnemius (calf muscle). When the Achilles is completely ruptured, the foot will not be able to move at all due to a complete tear. The healing time for this after surgery is around 12 weeks and sometimes longer.


 

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Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye Reid has a Bachelor of Science in Sport and Exercise Physiology and a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology and Sports Nutrition. Faye has worked with numerous high-profile oranisations, such as Men's Health, Sky Sports, Huddersfield Giants, Warrington Wolves, British Dressage and GB Rowing, providing her expert sports science support. Find out more about Faye's experience here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/faye-reid-8b619b122/. She puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding.


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