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What is a sprain?

visual: lateral ankle sprain

A sprain is an overstretching (mild) or tearing (severe) of ligaments – the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect two bones together in the joints. 1,2 The most common location for a sprain is in the ankle. 1

A sprain occurs when you overextend or tear a ligament while severely stressing a joint e.g. twisting your ankle when walking on an uneven surface, pivoting during an athletic performance can sprain knee ligaments, landing on an outstretched hand can damage wrist ligaments. 1

What is a strain?

man gripping back of ham string

A strain is a stretching (mild) or tearing (severe) of muscle or tendon. 1,2 A tendon is a fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones. 1 Strains often occur in the lower back or in the hamstring muscle in the back of the thigh. 1,2

A strain can be:

Acute – when a muscle is stretched unusually far or abruptly e.g. slipping on ice, jumping, throwing, running, lifting a heavy object. 1,2

Chronic – results from prolonged, repetitive movement of the muscle e.g. tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow. 1,2



Symptoms: 1,2
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Limited ability to move the affected joint or to put weight on it
  • At the time of the injury you may hear or feel a “pop” in the joint
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Muscle spasm
  • Limited ability to move the affected muscle
Risk factors:
  • Previous injury 3A history of previous ankle sprain can increase the risk of future ankle sprains.
  • Poor conditioning 1  Weak muscles are more likely to sustain injury.
  • Fatigue 1 Tired muscles are less likely to provide good support for the joints. When you are tired, you are also more likely to succumb to forces that could stress a joint or overextend a muscle.
  • Improper warm up 1 A proper warm up before vigorous physical activity loosens your muscles and increases joint range of motion, making the muscles less prone to trauma and tears.
  • Environmental conditions 1,4 Slippery or uneven surfaces may make you more prone to injury.
  • Poor equipment 1 Ill-fitting or poorly maintained footwear or other sporting equipment can contribute to your risk of injury.


Click here to learn more about how to treat sprain and strains

References: 1. Mayo Clinic. Sprains and strains. [online] [cited 2018 Apr 19]. Available from: URL: 2. Davis S. Managing common sport injuries in the pharmacy. S Afr Pharm J 2017;84(5):35-37. 3. Ivins D. Acute Ankle Sprain: An Update. Am Fam Phys 2006;74:1714-1720. 4. DeWilde J, van Rensburg J, Grant CC, Jansen can Rensburg A. The assessment and management of lateral ankle ligament injuries. S Afr Fam Pract 2014;56(4):13-18.

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