Now that it’s autumn and the temperatures are cooler, it’s certainly more enjoyable and comfortable for activities outside such as running, tennis, and basketball. With more activity comes greater risk of injuries such as sprains and strains. So let’s explore what they are, what causes them and where the injuries usually occur.

What is a Sprain and a Strain?

Sprains and StrainsA sprain is described as a stretch and/or tear of a ligament which is the tissue that connects the bones to a joint like the ankle, knee or wrist joints. How severe or complicated the injury is will depend on several factors such as whether or not there is a tear or only a stretch of the ligament and how many ligaments are included in the injury.

A strain is described as an injury to a muscle or a tendon which is the tissue that connects the muscle to the bone. Also, the severity of the injury will depend on several factors such as if the strain is just a simple overstretch of the tissue involved, if there is an actual tear in the tissue, or whether or not it’s partial or complete.

What Causes a Sprain and a Strain?

Sprains can be caused from many different types of injuries but most commonly from a fall, a twisting motion of the joint, or any force that pushes the joint out of its normal position which can result in tearing and stretching of the ligaments that are connected to that joint. An example of the type of injuries resulting in sprains are runners who trip and fall – an outstretched arm or a twisting of the knee or the ankle can easily result in a sprain.

Strains are different and result from the twisting or pulling of a muscle or tendon connected to the bone and not a joint. They can also be an acute or chronic condition. If an acute strain, it may be from a recent trauma or injury. Other examples of acute strains are the result of overstressing muscles during exercise or after improperly lifting heavy objects. Examples of causes of chronic strains can be the result of muscle or tendon overuse such as from the prolonged, repetitive movement of the muscles and tendons.

Where Do Sprains and Strains Usually Occur?

MRI Ankle Case Study Sprains can certainly occur in the joints in the arms and legs however the ankle is the most common site. According to this study 1, estimates show that more than 628,000 ankle sprains occur in the USA each year.

Two common sites for a strain are the back muscles and the hamstring muscle. The hamstring is located in the back of the thigh. Contact sports such as basketball, football and others, put people at risk for strains. Sports that require extensive gripping with their hands such as rowing, can increase the risk of hand and forearm strains and elbow strains sometimes occur in people who participate tennis.

For more information on Sprains and Strains, please visit the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Also, see our MRI Case Study of the Month on the diagnosis of an ankle sprain.

1 Waterman BR, Owens BD, Davey S, Zacchilli MA, Belmont PJ Jr. The epidemiology of ankle sprains in the United States. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2010 Oct 6;92(13):2279-84.