Musculoskeletal Injuries: Sprains, Strains and Breaks – The Difference

June 27, 2015


A tear or stretch of the tissue connecting two bones (the ligament) is known as a sprain. Ligaments form an important role in stabilising and supporting the body’s joints, such as the ligaments on the knee connecting the lower and upper leg. If a joint is overstretched or the ligament is ruptured, this causes a sprain. This can be triggered by a twist, fall or blow.


A moderate sprain can tear the ligament to some extent, destabilising the joint. A mild sprain stretches the ligament but does not destabilise the joint. A severe sprain totally tears the ligament or even separating ligament from bone. A sprain will bring about inflammation, swelling, bruising and pain. Repeatedly spraining a joint can cause a loose ankle, arthritis or tendon injury.


When a tendon or muscle is pulled or torn it can cause a strain. Tendons are the cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones. Your strain can either be acute or chronic. If it is acute it is caused by the pulling or stretching of a tendon or muscle. A chronic strain, however, is the result of overuse, after a prolonged or repetitive movement. A strain can be brought about by a lack of rest during training. Swelling, pain, cramping, muscle weakness or spasm and inflammation can all be common symptoms of a strain. Back strain (where the muscles supporting the spine are torn, twisted or pulled) and hamstring muscle strain (when the major muscle behind the thigh stretches or tears, these injuries tend to be repetitive) are common strains. A moderate strain will overstretch the tendon or muscle, tearing itslightly; some muscle function may be lost. A severe strain could partially or completely rupture a tendon or muscle, which could lead to a serious injury. A mild strain will slightly pull or stretch a tendon or muscle.



Splinters, fractures or complete breaks in the bone all come under the term ‘break’. A break is usually caused by sports, an accident or bone weakness.  Weakness, numbness or poor circulation in the injured limb, are all symptoms of breaks. If a bone appears to be deformed or if the pain is not subsiding, seek immediate medical attention.

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