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Sprains vs. Strains

Sprains and strains can be caused by the same mechanisms as a fracture, an x-ray can differentiate between the two.

A sprain is abnormal stretching or tearing of a ligament that supports a joint. A strain is abnormal stretching or tearing of a muscle or tendon. Sprains and strains may be caused by repetitive activities or by a single event.


The diagnosis of a sprain or strain usually can be made after the healthcare professional takes a history of the injury and performs a physical examination. Depending upon the situation, X-rays, CAT scan, or MRI scan may be needed to help make or confirm the diagnosis.


RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) are the keys to treatment.

Most sprains and strains resolve with time, but occasionally other treatment, including physical therapy and surgery, may be required.

Anti-inflammatory medications may be helpful in decreasing the pain and inflammation of the injury.