Sports Medicine

Our Specialties

Sprains and Strains

Description of a Sprain

A sprain is the stretching or tearing of ligaments that connect one bone to another, often caused by a fall or sudden twisting of a joint.

Symptoms of a Sprain

Common signs of a sprain are pain, bruising, swelling and inflammation. The intensity of these will vary, depending on the severity of the sprain. When the injury occurs, you may feel a tear or pop in the joint. A mild sprain stretches the ligament but there is no joint loosening. A moderate sprain partially tears the ligament, producing joint instability and some swelling. In a severe sprain, the ligaments tear completely or separate from the bone, causing excrutiating pain at the moment of injury.

Description of a Strain

A strain can be a simple stretch in a muscle or tendon (the fibrous cords of tissue that attach muscles to bone), or it can be a partial or complete tear in the muscle-tendon combination. Acute strains are usually caused by a direct blow, overstretching or excessive muscle contraction, while chronic strains are the result of prolonged, repetitive movement of muscles and tendons.

Symptoms of a Strain

Pain, muscle spasm or weakness, swelling, inflammation and cramping are common signs of a strain. A mild strain stretches or pulls the muscle/tendon slightly. In a moderate strain, some muscle function is lost where the muscle/tendon is overstretched and slightly torn. A severe strain partially or completely ruptures the muscle and/or tendon, which often makes it an incapacitating injury.


Rest, ice, compression (using a bandage), and elevation are recommended to help minimize discomfort and damage from both sprains and strains. This treatment is followed by simple, prescribed exercises that help relieve pain and restore mobility. In all but the mildest injuries, it is important for a medical doctor to evaluate the injury and establish an appropriate plan for treatment and rehabilitation. Even mild sprains and strains may require modified activity and rehabilitation exercises during recovery. For severe sprains or strains, surgery or immobilization followed by months of therapy may be required.


While sprains and strains can happen to anyone, there are ways to reduce your risk. These include: building muscle strength by participating in a conditioning program, doing daily stretching exercises, warming up before any sports activity or practice, using appropriate protective equipment, wearing properly fitting shoes, and eating a balanced diet to nourish your muscles.

VIDEO: Ankle Injuries with Kirk Cousins & Dr. Bruce Stewart, Holland Hospital Sports Medicine