Sprains & Strains

Sprains and strains are the most common types of sports injuries, with sprained ankles topping the list of sprains, and groin pulls and hamstring tears topping the list of strains. Sprains are injuries to ligaments, the tough bands connecting bones in a joint. Strains are injuries to muscle fibers or tendons, which anchor muscles to bones.

Prevention Is Key

By Mike Haskew


About 25,000 people get ankle sprains every day, and many of these are related to participation in sports. Sprains occur when the ligaments of a joint are stretched beyond their normal range of motion or elasticity, resulting in deformity or slight tearing. In some cases, the affected joint will become immobile and exhibit signs of swelling and bruising. Weight bearing joints are typically immobilized for a period of time. Movement in the wrist, finger or shoulder is restricted to allow the ligaments to heal.

Sprains often occur with sports that involve running, jumping, and sudden changes of direction, although some sprains may be the result of direct collision or impact. The ankle sprain, for instance, can happen when the foot itself is turned inward or rolls, causing the ligaments on the outside of the ankle to stretch beyond their routine capacity for movement and support of the joint.


Strains are typically referred to as pulled muscles because they are often attributed to the overwork or use of a muscle, resulting in tears to the muscle tissue or tendons. Strains affect a variety of locations in the body, but are most common with the groin or the hamstring.

Groin pulls are commonly caused by side-toside motion in such sports as baseball, football, hockey or soccer and are the result of overly stretched muscles of the inner thigh, inadequate warm-ups, sudden dynamic movements, or poor mechanics.

Hamstring injuries are common among athletes who play sports that require powerful accelerations, decelerations or lots of running. A hamstring pull refers to an over-stretching of one or more of the three muscles that run the length of the back of the thigh. Depending on the severity of the strain, the muscle can actually tear and many people can hear and feel an audible “pop” when the muscle is damaged.


Treatment for sprains and strains involves the RICE acronym. Rest or the restriction of activity will allow the affected joint or muscle group to heal more quickly. The application of ice minimizes swelling and lessens the degree of pain experienced. Compression of the injured area also reduces the swelling associated with sprains and strains. Elevating an affected limb above the heart lessens the amount of fluid to the injured area and reduces the amount of swelling that accompanies the injury. Pain is often managed with over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs. Depending on the severity and location of the injury, these injuries may take weeks to months to heal. If a sprain or strain is severe, and an entire muscle, tendon or ligament is torn, surgery may be needed.

The prevention of sprains and strains is best accomplished by a thorough warmup period before play, a particular awareness of the activity taking place so that sudden movements are anticipated and made from more stable positions, avoiding overuse, and stabilizing weak or previously injured muscles or joints with a wrap, sleeve or other brace.