Sprains and strains 

Introduction 

Fractures and dislocated joints

If you have a sprain or strain with a lot of bruising and swelling it may indicate the bone is fractured (broken). Other signs of a fracture can include:

  • lumps and bumps not usually there
  • being unable to bear weight
  • pain or tenderness in a different place  for example, if you have sprained your ankle but also have pain in your leg

Read more information about:

Driving advice

If you have a sprained ankle, avoid driving until strength and mobility has returned.

The length of time you are unable to drive for will depend on the severity of the sprain and how quickly it recovers. Your GP or physiotherapist will be able to advise you further.

Sprains and strains are a common type of injury that affect muscles and ligaments. 

Ligaments are strong bands of tissue around joints that connect one bone to another. They help to keep bones together and stable. 

Symptoms of sprains and strains include:

  • pain
  • swelling and inflammation
  • loss of movement in the affected body part

Sprains

A sprain occurs when one or more of your ligaments have been stretched, twisted or torn, usually as a result of excessive force being applied to a joint. The most common locations for a sprain to occur are:

  • the knee  which can become strained when a person turns quickly during physical activities
  • the ankle  which can become strained when walking or running on an uneven surface
  • the wrist  which can become strained when a person falls onto their hand
  • the thumb  which can become strained during repetitive physical activity (such as playing a racquet sport) or a fall

Strains

A strain occurs when the muscle fibres stretch or tear. They usually occur when the muscle has been stretched beyond its limits or it has been forced to contract (shorten) too quickly.

Strains can develop as the result of an accident, or during physical activities, such as running or playing football.

Read more about the causes of sprains and strains.

The most common types of strains are:

  • hamstring strains  the hamstrings are muscles that run down the back of the leg and are connected to the hip and knee joints
  • gastrocnemius and soleus strains  the gastrocnemius and soleus are the medical name for the muscles of the calf
  • quadriceps strains  the quadriceps are muscles located at the front of the thigh
  • lumbar strains  the lumbar muscles are found in the lower back

Treating a sprain or strain

Most sprains and strains can usually be treated with self-care techniques, such as PRICE therapy  protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation.

Generally, you should keep moving a sprained joint but immobilise a strained muscle. You should see your GP if you are in severe pain, or if the injury is not improving or is getting worse.

Painkillers can be used to help ease any pain, and stronger ones may be prescribed if you have a serious injury.

Read more about how sprains and strains are diagnosed and treating sprains and strains.

Most people will be able to resume normal activities within six to eight weeks. Severe muscle strains may take longer.

Preventing sprains and strains

There are a number of ways you can help to prevent sprains and strains, including:

Read more about preventing sprains and strains.

How common are they?

Sprains and strains are very common.

For example, ankle sprain is the most common type of sprain, accounting for an estimated 1-1.5 million visits to accident and emergency (A&E) departments each year in the UK.

And it is estimated that 90% of professional footballers will experience at least one muscle strain during the course of a football season.




Page last reviewed: 28/05/2012

Next review due: 28/05/2014

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 425 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

bumblebee1 said on 31 August 2013

i have now got knee pain due though last night, my friend fell on my knee and my knee could not bend, due to lot of drinking the pain at frist was painful i could not feel my leg for like five mins i got up walk around, my mate said she heard a large noise when happen i did not however it was loud. i carry on my night however this moring the pain is crazy it even woke me up everytime i move it only if i bend it back even sightly i feel and lot of pressure in my joint of my knee and is very painful to move, any help what i should do or what it is?

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

free30 said on 19 August 2013

I always get sprain and strain confused and it seems you do too.

"Generally, you should keep moving a sprained joint but immobilise a sprained [strained] muscle. "

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

lunaboo said on 29 November 2012

As qualified first aider am now confused - just back from a&e with sprained ankle, no treatment "we dont use bandages now" no explanation, just " you need to walk on it" when its so painful i cant put it on the ground. So i look at a few sites and see what i was taught still stands, rest ice and compression but now some interpret c is for comfortable. Wont be bothering the casualty staff now as they clearly dont want to know but would be good to have some clarity on what the right thing to do is.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

DanielNastaszyc said on 01 August 2012

I'm more then 12 weeks after sprain or strain my ankle foot, 2x X-ray and is not broken, and no one can help me, I can't still walk. Help !!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

helgaw5110 said on 05 January 2012

you do not mention shoulder joint - i fell and hurt all the ligaments and muscles from the bottom of my arm to my neck and also the muscles etc down that side of my chest. use is slowly coming back, but it still hurts and i still do not have full use of my arm - have had some physio but cannot afford any more - so how long till i might get all use back - the fall was at the beginning of September, I did go to A&E but the nurse there was so awful I walked out - this happened 2 days after my daughter had died suddenly.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

suz54 said on 19 September 2011

i got a wrist strain and was wondering how long before it heals. so, it is 8 weeks fro strains?

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Health and fitness

Boost your health and fitness with fun and practical ideas to get active and improve your general health

Fitness training tips

Guide to fitness training, with tips on building stamina, strength and flexibility as well as diet and motivation