Sprains and strains are terms that are often used synonymously to describe the overstretching or tearing condition of soft tissues in and around your joints and muscles. While they are common injuries and can share some symptoms, there is a key difference between the two. By understanding this difference, you can seek the most appropriate treatment option for your injury and speed up the healing process.   


A sprain is an injury to a ligament, or the band of fibrous tissue that connects two or more bones to a joint. When a ligament is stretched, torn or twisted, a sprain is the result and is more commonly associated with areas such as the thumbs, wrists, knees and ankles. 

Causes and Risk Factors

  • Walking or running on uneven terrain 
  • Falling and landing on your wrist or hand
  • Sudden twisting or pivoting movements 
  • Participating in contact sports


  • Pain 
  • Swelling
  • Bruising 
  • Inability to use the joint normally or put weight on it
  • Feeling a “popping” sensation at the time of your injury 


A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon, otherwise known as the fibrous chords of tissue that connects your muscles to the bone. When a muscle or tendon is stretched, torn or twisted, a strain is the result and is more commonly associated with areas such as the feet, knees, legs and back. 

Causes and Risk Factors

  • Lifting heavy objects improperly
  • A recent injury that overstresses your muscles 
  • Running, jumping or throwing 
  • Slipping and falling 


  • Pain and tenderness
  • Swelling 
  • Bruising
  • Cramping
  • Muscle spasms or weakness
  • Limited movement in affected area

Treatment for Sprains and Strains

Both sprains and strains require you to closely follow the 4-step RICE protocol to reduce swelling and relieve pressure at the site of your injury: 

  • Rest: Avoid putting unnecessary weight on your affected limb by ceasing all exercise or physical activity. 
  • Ice: Apply an ice pack to the affected area for up to 20 minutes every 2-3 hours. 
  • Compression: Wrap the affected area with a special bandage or trainer’s tape to compress the area. 
  • Elevation: Keep your injured limb elevated above chest level if you can, as much as possible. 

If you are experiencing a prolonged period of pain and swelling that does not improve with in-home treatment or you begin to develop other symptoms, it may be time to get in touch with a licensed physical therapist at Medical Rehabilitation Centers of Pennsylvania. We can help you get relief from your injury by providing you with a comprehensive care plan that not only significantly improves your condition but also ensures you are less likely to sustain the same injury in the future. 

For comprehensive diagnostics and tailor-made physical therapy treatments in and around Philadelphia and the Greater Philadelphia Area, contact MRCP. Visit us at one of our convenient locations or contact us online.