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Strains vs. Sprains

Just figured I’d make a little post to clear up some confusion regarding common injuries.  People mix up strains vs. sprains all the time.  Hope this little primer helps.

Both are injuries to muscle or connective tissue (ligaments & tendons). This type of injury is often caused by a traction type force, usually from a forceful stretch or twist.  These injuries result in mild to moderate tears of the tissue fibers.  They usually hurt.

The major difference:

Muscles get STRAINS, and ligaments get SPRAINS.

Both suck.  Very common injuries, usually hurt quite a bit, and can cause you to take time off that you don’t want.


If you dance, exercise, or play any sports, EVER, you’ve probably had at least a mild one.  A good example is a quad or hamstring ‘pull’.  Hurts for a week or so, if you let it heal.  Mild ones like that usually indicate micro-trauma, little microscopic tears in the muscle.  That’s a grade 1 (usually; sometimes grading is different in different organizations or countries).  Grade 2 means less than half the fibers of a particular muscle is torn.  Grade 3 is greater than half.  Grade 4 is a full tear (not good).


If you are active, chances are you will get at least one of these through your career in whatever you do.  A good example is a ‘rolled ankle’, which happens to almost everyone. Usually same grading as strains, grade 1 to 4.  Usually takes a little longer to heal than a muscle strain.


For an overview of how most injuries happen, read this.

Basically, to strain a muscle, you flex or stretch it too hard, too quick.

To sprain a ligament,  you did the same thing, but you moved in a weird way that your body, well, probably shouldn’t have. Friggin OW!!! That picture is obviously an extreme example.

Healing Time – These are rough estimates, for mild (grade I-II) injuries.

Muscle strains usually feel better in a week, and are healed in about 3 weeks.  If you want it to really heal, and not come back, you HAVE to rest it.  Its easy to disrupt muscle healing.  But don’t worry, it wont take too long.

Ligament sprains often hurt for a while, and unfortunately they heal slow.  To heal, they usually take 6-8 weeks 1 (I know, its rotten!).  However, usually you can slowly get back to exercise after a week or so, and you probably should. For the first few weeks, its good to wear a brace or wrap it up (you are kinda replacing your ligaments job, limiting movement in awkward directions). Strengthen the muscles around the joint, because some research 2 shows that ligaments can still be loose even a year after the injury!

These injuries suck, bad, but remember, its not forever.

Dancers: remember one of the best things about being a dancer… variety… options… see my previous post: What to do while you are injured.

Hope this all helps!


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    12 Responses to Strains vs. Sprains

    1. Patrick says:

      My Gastrocnemius have felt like fire for around 2 months now, I believe I just don’t give it enough rest because if I spend 2-3 days doing nothing and applying ice I can start walking comfortably again. Sadly, I haven’t been able to rest longer than a few days consecutively, I’m used to spend 2 hours cycling and 4-5 hours breaking everyday, I suppose I’ve overused these muscles(Which we know are doing a heck of a job during footwork).

      Anyways, today I did around 8 hours of physical activity and the burning sensation is killing me, I know I’ll have an uneasy time trying to get some sleep tonight!

      I’ll be more serious this time and simply a week off and apply ice. During my three week vacation I was already having these symptoms and they still haven’t healed because I don’t give it enough rest…

      That will teach me from ignoring the signs I get from my body. It’s so hard to stop exercising once you get into that groove.


      • Tony Ingram says:

        Hey Patrick – sounds like those muscles aren’t getting a proper break! I think you’re right, you need solid time off. Have you seen my muscle strain guide? Pop me an email too, maybe I can help with more detail.

        I feel your pain – I strained my back Tuesday night… and I have a competition next weekend!!! I’ll probably blog about it… lol

    2. Taylor says:

      ok so I was running in tae kwon do and felt my ankle buckle and then roll, It’s been a week and a half and still hurting severly. I have Iced it and done more than enough to try and get it to stop hurting but nothing works and I don’t know what to think of this.

    3. Good way of distinguishing Sprains and Strains. The e-book about ankle sprains is very helpful guide I think you can learn a lot from that and take necessary precautions to prevent it from happening

    4. Sonya says:

      Thank you for an awesome met of articles including your strains and sprains guide!!! Really helpful!

    5. Sonya says:

      Thank you for an awesome set of articles including your strains and sprains guide!!! Really helpful!

    6. Tony Thornton says:

      I strained a muslce in my upper/ shoulder by quickly changing the direction I was swinging my arm during a hockey game. Its been almost 5 weeks. During the day the pain is barely noticeable. Strength is still very weak, but at night the pain is very localized andquite painful to

      the point it keeps me awake. Why would it hurt more when at rest?

      Thank you so much for putting this information out there!

    7. I am glad to find useful advice on muscle sprain and strain. I am a volleyball player and a military officer, over 40 years old and still want to keep fit. What I have notice is that I’m putting on weight and I still want to keep fit and swift. Will glad to hear from u. I’m in Africa a country called Sierra Leo ne. THX and God bless.

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