The difference between Strain and Sprain

Strain Vs Sprain: What’s the Difference?

You may have heard your Osteo or Physio tell you that you have a sprain or a strain. The terms sprain and strain are used to describe an over stretching of a tissue, but used correctly, they describe different tissues. So you’re probably wondering what’s the difference?


Strain is a term used to describe the over stretching causing tissue damage of a muscle fibre. Muscles cross over joints and help move our limbs. For example, strain could be used to describe a hamstring injury. Muscle strains are then categorised according to their degree of over stretching which gives us an indication of recovery times.

Muscle Strain Grading

Grade 0: Mild over stretching signalling further damage to the tissue could occur. Sometimes referred to as “awareness”. 1-2 weeks recovery time.

Grade 1: Moderate tearing of the muscle fibres usually in the middle of the muscle belly causing some pain and weakness. 2-4 weeks recovery time

Grade 2: More significant muscle fibre tearing has occurred closer to the muscle-tendon junction causing pain and weakness. 4-6 weeks recovery time .

Grade 3: Full rupture tearing of the muscle fibres causing pain, sometimes bruising and loss of function. 6-12 weeks recovery time.


Sprain is term used to describe the over stretching of a ligament. Ligaments support joints and connect bone to bone, they are mostly made up of collagen to strongly support a joint, they don’t have much elasticity to stretch. For example, sprain could be used to describe and ankle injury. Sprains are categorised according to the degree of tissue damage to a ligament.

Ligament Sprain Grading

Grade 1: Mild over stretching of a ligament tissue causing pain and some swelling. 2-4 weeks recovery time.

Grade 2: Moderate tearing of a ligament tissue causing pain, swelling, some bruising and difficulty to weight bear. 4-8 weeks recovery time.

Grade 3: Full rupture of a ligament tissue sometimes causing less pain, swelling, difficulty to weight bear and instability of the joint it supports. 8-12 weeks recovery time.

What do you do with a strain or a sprain?

If you suspect you have experienced a muscle strain or a ligament sprain, the key is early intervention. Our team of Osteopaths and Physiotherapists at Alpha Sports Medicine can help diagnose your injury correctly and give you the right advice for exercise rehab and recovery.

For the right advice, contact our team located in Newport to help ease your pain, recover from your strain or sprain and get you back to your best!