athlete with an ankle injury

Sprain Vs. Strain Injuries

By David Cheskis, DPM, AACFAS, DABPM

Many patients ask: “What’s the difference?” When explaining sprain vs. strain, the simple answer comes down to anatomy.

What is a sprain

A sprain by definition is an injury to a band of tissue called a ligament, which connects two bones to one another.

A common sprain in the foot that almost all of us have encountered at one point or another is an ankle sprain. Rolling our ankle most commonly “sprains” our lateral ankle ligaments leading to pain, swelling, and sometimes instability.

Which makes sense. If a structure that connects two bones to one another is injured, that junction between those two bones loses some level of stability.

What is a sTrain?

A strain, by contrast, is an injury to a muscle or a tendon. A tendon is part of a muscle that is often very strong and allows for attachment of that muscle onto the bone.

Both a sprain and a strain can be quite painful and debilitating. Both have stages of injury in which you can have a mild sprain/strain or a severe sprain/strain.

woman having her injured leg examined by a podiatrist on Long Island, NY

Diagnosis: sprain or strain?

Differentiating the two sometimes may be difficult and sometimes in addition to our clinical exam, I rely on advanced imaging like MRI to get to the root of the injury.

Sometimes the two types of injuries happen in tandem. An ankle sprain, an injury to a ligament, often can lead to excessive strain on the peroneal tendons. Luckily, most mild and even moderate sprain/strains can be treated conservatively if addressed early.

If you’ve had an injury, allow one of the Advanced Foot Care specialists to accurately diagnose your injury, it can make all the difference in your path to recovery.

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