The causes of sprains and strains

Sprains and strains are injuries to the soft tissues around joints. ‘Strains’ normally refers to damage to muscles while we tend to use ‘sprains’ to describe injuries to ligaments, the bands of flexible connective tissue that connect bones to one another and hold our joints in place.

This damage is often the result of excessive or unusual force being applied to a joint or the muscles around it. As a result, a lot of sprains and strains happen during sporting activities when we subject our joints and muscles to extra stress.

However, even a small slip or sudden unexpected movement can lead to injury, swelling and pain.

Woman holding her ankle



The symptoms of sprains and strains

Symptoms of sprains include:

  • Pain around the affected joint
  • Inability to use the joint normally or put weight on it
  • Swelling, bruising and tenderness

There may be swelling soon after the injury, but the bruising may not show until later or it may not show at all.

Bruising sometimes develops away from the affected joint, as blood seeps along the muscles before surfacing to the skin.

Symptoms of strains include:

  • Swelling, bruising or redness
  • Pain in the affected muscle at rest
  • Pain in the muscle or associated joint during use
  • Muscle spasms (when the muscles contract tightly and painfully)
  • Weakness and loss of some or all of the function in the affected muscle

Avoiding and managing
sprains and strains

Generally, you should try to start moving a sprained joint as soon as it's not too painful to do so, to keep the joint’s flexibility. Strained muscles, on the other hand, should normally be immobilised, at least for a few days.

The best way to prevent sprains and strains is good preparation for physical activity. Make sure you wear the right footwear for the activity you're doing.

Warm up properly before exercise to loosen your muscles and ligaments, and use stretching exercises afterwards to ‘cool down’.

If you regularly play a specific sport, do strengthening and flexibility exercises around the joints and muscles most likely to come under stress.