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Sprains and strains are two very common injuries. Their names might sound the same but there are some significant differences between these two conditions.
Ligaments are the connective tissues in a joint that attach bones to other bones. A sprain occurs when a ligament is stressed beyond its capacity and begins to tear or separate from the bone to which it is connected. Many sprains are minor, where only a portion of the fibers of a ligament tear.
A more severe sprain can result in the ligament being torn in two or completely separated from the bone. Sprains are generally a result of a fall or other injury, but can also occur during exercise, particularly if muscles are weak or fatigued. The joints most susceptible to sprains are the ankle, knee, wrist and thumb. The main symptoms are pain, swelling and the inability to use or put weight on the affected joint. Sometimes a popping or tearing sensation may be noticed at the time the sprain happens, and bruising in the area may also occur.
A strain is an injury to a tendon, which is the connective tissue between muscles and bones, or to a muscle itself. Similar to a sprain, a strain occurs when a tendon or muscle is stretched or stressed beyond its normal capacity.
A strain is acute if it is caused by a specific isolated event, such as an injury or fall. A chronic strain is caused by repetitive movements such as clicking a computer mouse or playing tennis. The hamstring muscle group in the leg, the elbow and the low back muscles are common areas where a strain might occur. Symptoms of a strain are pain, muscle cramps and spasms in the affected area, swelling and an inability to use the muscle.
These conditions can happen to anyone, from highly trained athletes to the ordinary man or woman engaging in everyday activities. The best ways to prevent sprains and strains are to wear shoes that fit properly, exercise regularly to stay in shape, maintain a normal weight, beware of conditions (such as wet floors or ice) that could lead to a fall and always stretch before exercising.