A sprain, in whichever of your joints (such as your ankle), is a stretching or tearing of the ligaments.
Ligaments are the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect two bones together in your joints.
The ankle is the most common joint to be sprained.
Other common joints that suffer from this are the wrists, knees or hips.
Meanwhile, a strain is something that involves an injury to a muscle or a tendon, i.e. the band of tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone.
When you sprain your joint, there is usually pain, swelling, bruising and movement limitations.
You may also have heard or felt a “popping” sensation when you injured it.
How much pain, swelling or disability you experience will depend on the severity of your injury.
Some people with a mild ankle sprain, for example, can walk around and still perform many athletic feats (to their own peril).
Others can’t even walk without crutches.
As for a strain, you can overstretch your muscle or tendon after a minor injury.
A more severe injury can cause a partial or complete tear in your muscle or tendon.
Strains mostly occur in your lower back and thigh muscles, i.e. the hamstrings. They are sometimes also called pulled muscles.
Strains come with pain or tenderness, redness or bruising, limited movement of the affected body part, and muscle spasms and weakness.
In my opinion, the best way to tell if you have a sprain or strain is the location of your injury.
If it is an ankle, it is likely to be a sprain.
If it is your lower back, it is likely to be a strain.
But as in all medicine, this is not 100% foolproof – just more likely.
A sprain happens when you tear or overextend a ligament while severely stressing your joint.
An ankle sprain commonly happens when your ankle rolls in or out suddenly.
This can happen when you walk or exercise on an uneven or slippery surface, such as running outdoors through a park with a lot of grassy hillocks or hiking through a forest with a lot of rocks and tufts.
It can also happen when you land awkwardly after you jump, such as when you are playing basketball.
You can also sprain your knee when you are exercising.
A wrist is usually sprained when you fall and put out your hands to stop yourself.
Some people even sprain a thumb during playing racquet games, like badminton or tennis.
You are more likely to sprain your joints when you are feeling tired or if you keep using your old sports shoes until they are worn down and don’t offer you adequate protection.
Sudden strains are usually caused when you lift something heavy without taking the necessary precautions, such as bending your knees and lifting it with your back as straight as possible.
That is why the most common muscles to be strained are those in your back.
Chronic muscle strains can be caused by repetitive injuries, i.e. when you are doing the same movement over and over again.
Yes, you can strain yourself by typing on the keyboard repetitively, or playing computer games with your mouse or by tapping your phone screen!
People who are active in contact sports like football and hockey, have a higher risk of muscle strains.
If you do a lot of quick starts, stops and jumps in a sport, e.g. like in basketball or hurdling, you are at higher risk of straining your legs and ankles, especially your Achilles tendon.
If you do a lot of hand grip sports like golfing, then you have a higher risk of muscle strains in your hands.
You can also strain your elbow in racquet sports (like having a tennis elbow) and throwing sports, e.g. discus, javelin, or even dart throwing.
Mild sprains can be treated at home with just icing (during the acute or immediate phase) several times a day to reduce the swelling, and elevating and resting the joint.
But you should see a doctor if you cannot walk or bear weight on the affected joint, have pain directly over the bones of that joint (it may mean a fracture!), or have numbness in any part of that area.
After you sprain your ankle, you should definitely rest it for the first two days.
After that, new studies recommend gentle exercise to get the joint working.
It is actually unhealthy to rest it for more than a month.
If you are unsure of anything, do consult the orthopaedic doctor.
Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, email email@example.com. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.