Joint sprains and muscle strains — You probably know that they both hurt, but do you know the difference between a sprain and a strain?

Well, while they are both referred to as “soft tissue injuries,” a sprain occurs in your ligaments while a strain occurs in your tendons and/or muscles.

With a sprain, you feel pain right away at the affected area, most commonly around the wrist or ankle (rolled or twisted). Swelling and bruising soon follow.

With a strain, you may not feel sharp, shooting pain right away, but rather a gradual onset of stiffness and soreness in the affected area, also accompanied by swelling of the tendons and/or muscles.


Sprains are most commonly caused from an excessive twisting motion. For example, if you “roll your ankle” while walking, the weight from you body bears down and causes the ligaments around your ankle to stretch farther than they should. A similar example would be if you fall down and catch yourself with your hands, causing a sudden and excessive bending back of your wrists.

Strains usually aren’t quite as dramatic or acute, but can still cause just as much pain and discomfort over time. Strains are usually related to heavy lifting, whether in the weight room or just moving boxes or other heavy objects. Whenever the weight you are working with is more than the weight at which the weakest part of your muscle can bear, a strain can occur. This is especially true when it’s combined with excessive twisting or a rounded back from poor lifting form.

There are several things you can do to help avoid sprains and strains. Remember – A little preventative action is much better than having to deal with a nagging injury for an extended period of time.

  • Warm up before exercise. Getting your blood flowing and moving around to help loosen up your muscles and joints before exercising can go a long way in keeping you injury-free. If you immediately start movements that are twisting and stretching your body in different directions, your muscles and tendons could be tighter than usual and, thus, more susceptible to injury.
  • Don’t overdo it. Especially in sports and weightlifting. It’s easy to get carried away and try to push yourself farther and farther, but it’s important to know your limits and  increase them gradually, rather than trying to over train all at once. Weights that are heavier than your body can handle may lead to strains that could keep you out for months, and fatigued bodies and muscles are always more susceptible to injury.
  • Stretch. There’s debate as to whether you should stretch before or after exercise or both, but there’s no denying that a more limber body is more injury-proof, especially when dealing with sprains and strains. The more fluid your muscles are, the more they can cope with twisting and stretching during physical activity.
  • Lift with your legs. You’ve heard it a million times, but lifting with your legs and never with a rounded back is the key to keeping your spine as problem-free as possible. If you bend over and put all the weight of whatever you’re lifting, whether it’s boxes, groceries, or a barbell, squarely on your back, it’s only a matter of time before the weight becomes to much, and your back pays the price. Instead, squat down low, keep your back straight and push up with your legs, so most of the weight-bearing is handled by the stronger muscles in your legs.

A sprain or strain might not sound as bad as a broken bone, but they can actually take just as long, if not longer, to heal, depending on the severity of the injury.

If you fall victim to a sprain or strain, the best first-line of treatment is rest. Training or adding even more weight-bearing exercise and movements to an already-injured part of your body will only make the problem worse.

It also helps to get regular chiropractic adjustments and massage treatments. Chiropractic adjustments can relieve the pinched nerve pressure that often accompanies these injuries, leading to at least some instant pain relief. Through careful and expert manipulation of the joints, a chiropractor can increase your mobility, not only speeding up healing of sprains and strains, but also helping to prevent them in the future. Massaging during treatment will also break up adhesions and scar tissue that forms around the affected area, which will allow the body to heal itself faster.

If you need to request an appointment for symptoms that you are experiencing, give our office a call or schedule your appointment through our website here.