Strains, Sprains, and Breaks – Knowing the Difference

In the athletic world, the most common injuries fall into three categories – strains, sprains, and breaks. In each of these categories, there are hundreds of different names to describe each, fitting with what type of body part that was injured. However, while a break in the bone or ligament is obviously more serious than a strained muscle, without proper treatment for each of these injuries, it can take you out of the game in the long-term. Knowing the difference between these three common injury categories and how to best treat them can make all the difference in terms of proper healing and healing time.

strains, sprains, and breaks - knowing the difference


Strains are typically used to describe muscles that have been pulled away from their muscle group or tendon. However, strains to the tendon can also occur when they start to pull away from the bone. When a muscle is strained, the tension is palpable and often accompanied by pain, soreness, or even numbness. For athletes, the most common cause of strained muscles is repetitive movement, but the lack of rest between a workout can also be an invitation for strained muscles as well.

If a strained muscle or tendon is ignored, the strain will only get worse. Eventually the fibrous tissue that makes up both the muscle or tendon could rupture or tear, resulting in a loss of muscle function that may or may not be restored through surgery.

The good news is that strains are easy to treat with rest and ice. If allowed to properly rest for a few days, most muscle strains will heal themselves within a week.


Unlike strains, sprains are associated with the tissues and ligaments that connect bones to each other. The ligaments help to stabilize the bones at the joint so humans don’t just fall over in one big heap while moving. When a ligament is injured, it is often accompanied with an unnerving popping sensation, pain, and later bruising and inflammation in the area.

Sprains typically run the gamut of mild to severe. Mild sprains may cause little pain, but you will feel the joint functioning at a slower pace than normal, but still able to function. Moderate sprains result in an unstable joint and athletes will find it difficult for the area to support their weight. Severe sprains happen when ligaments completely separate from the bone and will actually interfere with normal joint function instead of aiding it.

Like with muscle strains, the best treatment is to rest and ice the area, elevating it to relieve any swelling. However, moderate to severe sprains will take much longer to heal than strains or mild sprains. As the healing finishes, athletes may also want to brace the area to provide the joint and healing ligament some support.


While ligaments and muscles can tear or rupture, breaks or fractures refer to bones. These injures can refer to just a small crack in the bone to a full separation in the most severe cases. Without a doubt, breaks will require immediate medical attention and often immobilization in a cast as incorrect movement could result in nerve damage.

Treating a break requires the longest healing time, often months in a cast without much weight put on the area. After the cast is removed, there will also be some rehabilitation to time to restore muscle strength in the area. However, while athletes may be excited to get back out there, it is always important to take things slow at first so as to not exacerbate the injury.

Suffering from any of these recent injuries? We can help. From athletic tape to supports, contact us today so we can help treat that injury so you aren’t warming the bench for longer than you need to.