Sprains and strains are more common than you think

Many of us may have experienced a strain or sprain at some time or another. They’re a common type of sports injury, but they can also occur during everyday activities, such as work, housework and gardening.

Although they often feel similar, strains and sprains are different conditions because they affect different structures in the body.

Strains are caused by damage to muscle fibres or tendon such as a stretch or tear.

Sprains, however, are caused by damage to ligaments. These are the bands of connective tissue that join bones together in a joint.



Acute strains occur immediately after injury to the muscle or tendon. Strains can also be chronic, developing over time from overuse of muscles and tendons during prolonged repetitive movement.

Symptoms of a strain can include pain, muscle spasm, muscle weakness or swelling around the area of injury. Muscles that commonly get strains are in the back and legs such as hamstring.


Sprains are almost always caused by a blow or fall that knocks the joint out of position, stretching and sometimes tearing the ligaments. Typical symptoms are pain, bruising, swelling. The joints most at risk for a sprain vary depending on the activities. For example, jumping (as in hurdling, netball, volleyball or basketball) or walking on an uneven surface can cause ankle sprains, and falling on an outstretched hand could cause wrist sprain.


  • Always warm up before sport or exercise
  • Try to do some stretching/flexibility exercise every day
  • Wear the right shoes: make sure they fit well and replace them if the tread is worn out
  • Ease into exercise: don’t rush headlong into a new fitness program – start slowly and gently; build muscle strength with a conditioning program. Speak to your doctor for advice if starting a new fitness regime and have not done much exercise previously.
  • Avoid running on uneven surfaces
  • Don’t exercise or play sport if you’re tired or in pain
  • Eat a well-balanced diet


The PRICE and HARM methods can be used at home to help relieve the pain.

In the first 72 hours after a sprain or muscle strain, you should avoid Heat, Alcohol, Running and Massage.

PRICE stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Firstly protect the injured area to prevent further damage. Then it’s best to stop exercising and limit other activities for a while, and put an ice pack on the affected area (but not directly on the skin) every few hours for about 20 minutes each time. Bandage the site or use an elastic wrap to apply compression – this helps to limits swelling. Try to keep the injured area elevated by placing it on a pillow. This also helps to reduce swelling.

Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers can help with the pain after a strain or sprain. Nurofen medicines contain ibuprofen, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Ibuprofen gels, such as Nurofen Joint & Back Pain Relief Max Strength 10% Gel are also available and can be applied to the skin around a strain or sprain.

See your doctor: In most cases, sprains and strains will heal after a few weeks however some may take longer than others depending on the severity of the strains. If you’re concerned your doctor or pharmacist will be able to advise you further on the best treatment options for your sprain/strain.

All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health matters please contact your doctor. Nurofen Joint & Back Pain Relief Max Strength 10% Gel contains 10% w/w ibuprofen. For pain relief. Always read the label.