Musculoskeletal Injuries: The Differences between Sprains, Strains and Breaks


A sprain is a tear or a stretch of the tissue connecting two bones (ligament). Ligaments are essential in stabilizing and supporting the body’s joints. For instance, knee ligaments connect the lower and the upper leg. Sprains are caused by injuries that overstretch a joint, or rupture supporting ligaments. A twist, fall, or blow to the body can result into a sprain.

A moderate sprain tears the ligament partially, causing the joint to destabilize. A mild sprain stretches the ligament, but does not destabilize the joint. A severe sprain completely tears the ligament or even separates the ligaments from the bone. In most cases, sprains cause swelling, inflammation, pain and bruising. Repeated sprains can result to a loose ankle, arthritis or tendon injury.


A strain is a pull, tear or twist of a tendon or muscle. A tendon is a cord of tissue connecting muscles to bones. Strains can either be acute or chronic. An acute strain is caused by pulling or stretching a tendon or muscle. A chronic strain on the other hand is caused by overusing a tendon or muscle, after a prolonged or repetitive movement. Lack of rest during training may cause a strain. Common symptoms of strains include swelling, pain, cramping, muscle weakness or spasm and inflammation. Common strains include: back strain: the muscles supporting the spine are torn, twisted or pulled. Hamstring muscle strain: a major muscle behind the thigh stretches or tears. Hamstring injuries tend to be repetitive. Moderate strain overstretches the tendon/muscle and tears it slightly and some muscle functions may be lost. Severe strain partially or completely raptures a tendon or muscle causing a serious injury. Mild strain slightly pulls or stretches a tendon or muscle.


Breaks are splinters, fractures or complete breaks in bone. The main causes of breaks are sports, accidents or bone weakness. Symptoms of breaks include weakness, numbness or poor circulation in the injured limb. You should seek urgent medical attention if the bone appears to be deformed or if the pain does not subside.