Strains and Sprains: What You Need to Know

Feb 03, 2021

Whether you are a collegiate athlete or you have never participated in an organized sport in your life, you have probably heard someone say the phrase “pulled a hammy” or “blew out a knee”. In the medical world, is a strain and the other a sprain. Do you know which is which? 


Scenario = “you pulled a hammy”

A strain is an injury to a muscle (tissue that connects to tendon) or tendon (tissue that connects muscle to bone) which leads to that muscle or tendon being overstretched or torn. Muscles and tendons play a vital role in our everyday functions whether we are walking around our home or running up and down a basketball court. Most often the muscle tears partially; picture your muscle like a rope that frays when damaged or stretched. This occurs most frequently when there is an imbalance in the muscles and the joints surrounding the injury. 


  • Previous injury 
  • Imbalances
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle tightness
  • Improper form
  • High demands


  • Pain 
  • Swelling
  • Loss of function (or limited function)
  • Bruising


Scenario =  “you blew out a knee” 

A sprain is an injury to a ligament (fibrous connective tissue that connects bone to bone within a joint). Sprains occur when too much force is placed on a joint causing the ligament(s) to stretch or tear. Ligaments are formed of tough fibrous bands of connective connective tissue; picture a cable connecting your bones together that has a slight give. Ligaments keep our joints stable, therefore, when they are injured proper treatment is incredibly important to the future health of the joint. 


  • Direct contact (for example, taking a direct hit or blow to the knee)
  • Twisting (for example, landing from a jump and rolling your ankle or twisting a knee)


  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Limited range of motion or trouble using the joint
  • Sometimes a “popping” can be heard or felt. 

Treatment of a sprain or strain: 

Initial treatment of a sprain or strain would generally include the RICE method

R: Rest

I: Ice

C: Compression

E: Elevation

It is important to seek medical advice and treatment if you sustain a sprain or a strain. Physical therapists are trained to evaluate the severity of the injury, find deficiencies in the body that led to the injury, apply treatments that will allow for optimal healing/recovery, and finally, help make sure that the injury doesn’t recur. Don’t wait to schedule a free screening with one of our physical therapists if you have an injury. We can help you determine what to do next to “Be Your Best”. For more information about our FREE consultations Click here: Consult Information.