How are sprains and strains different?


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. 


Why are sprains so painful? 

When you sprain an ankle (or any other joint), your body releases chemicals called prostaglandins. The release of these chemicals is important for causing inflammation (a source of your pain) which helps to protect the area of the injury. Inflammation is perfectly normal when you have a sprain. It’s how your body reacts to the injury. When you sprain an ankle the soft tissues in your body are damaged. However, they also make the surrounding nerves sensitive to more pain. This means you may want to take some pain relief while the injury heals. 

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How to help prevent sprains and strains

  • 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 a sport if you’re tired or in pain 
  • Eat a well-balanced diet 

What should I do if I have a strain or sprain?

The PRICE and HARM methods can be used at home to help relieve the pain. For the first 72 hours after a sprain or muscle strain, you should be avoiding HARM which is: 

Heat: such as hot baths, saunas or heat packs. 

Alcohol: drinking alcohol will increase bleeding and swelling, and slow healing. 

Running: or any other form of exercise that could cause more damage. 

Massage: which may increase bleeding and swelling. 


PRICE therapy to can aid the healing of the injury. PRICE simply stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. 

Protection: Protect the injured area to prevent further damage. For example, by using a support. For ankle injuries it is advised to wear shoes that enclose and support your feet, such as lace-up shoes. 

Rest: The body needs time to repair, so try to avoid putting any extra weight on it than necessary. Without rest, you place continual strain on the injury which could lead to further injury. 

Ice: Ice is a great way to help reduce inflammation. It constricts the blood vessels which aids the prevention of bleeding and swelling. Do not to apply ice directly to the surface of the skin and instead use an icepack or ice wrapped in a towel. Applying an ice pack to the injury for 20 minutes every few hours can help. 

Compression: Applying a bandage to the area limits swelling and movement that could cause further damage as well as providing support for the injury. 

Elevation: Keeping the injured area raised; can help to control swelling. It helps blood and fluid drain away from the injury. 

Anti-inflammatory medicines help to ease pain 

Ibuprofen, the active ingredient in Nurofen Gels, Tablets and Plasters has anti-inflammatory properties and reduces the production of prostaglandins which can help to ease the pain. 

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.