Strains and sprains

Strains and sprains are similar injuries, causing bruising, swelling and pain to the affected area, but there is a difference between them. A sprain is an injury to the bands of tissue that connects bones. A strain is an injury to the muscle or the band of tissue that connects muscle to bone.

When to come to a UCHealth Urgent Care clinic

You can treat mild sprains at home, but you should come to urgent care or see your provider if you:

  • Can’t move or bear weight on the affected joint.
  • Have pain directly over the bones of an injured joint.
  • Have numbness in any part of the injured area.

Healing time for strains and sprains

With proper treatment, a strain or sprain can take six to eight weeks to heal.

Severe strains and sprains may need further treatment like physical therapy to aid healing and to prevent a chronic injury such as arthritis or musculoskeletal pain.

Common types of strains and sprains


A muscle strain is an injury to a muscle or a tendon, the fibrous tissue that connects muscles to bones. A strain is also commonly called a pulled muscle. A minor strain may simply be an overstretching of a muscle or tendon, while a serious strain has partial or complete tears in the tissue.

The most common types we treat:

  • Lower back muscles
  • Hamstring muscle


A sprain happens when you overextend or tear a ligament while stressing a joint, such as falling and twisting, which commonly happens when playing sports.

The most common types we treat:

  • Ankle
  • Knee
  • Thumb
  • Wrist

Common causes of strains and sprains


Certain parts of the body are more susceptible to strains in certain sports:

  • Legs and ankles. Sports that feature quick starts and jumping, such as basketball can be tough on the Achilles tendon.
  • Hands. Gripping sports, such as gymnastics or golf, can increase your risk.
  • Elbows. Elbow strains are often caused by throwing sports and racquet sports.

Acute strains can be caused by one event, while chronic muscle strains can occur from repetitive injuries when you stress a muscle by doing the same motion over and over.


Sprains often occur from playing sports, but everyday activities can cause a sprain in these joints:

  • Ankle. Walking or exercising on an uneven surface, or by landing awkwardly from a jump.
  • Knee. Pivoting during an athletic activity.
  • Wrist. Landing on an outstretched hand during a fall.
  • Thumb. Overextension when playing racquet sports, or from a fall while skiing, which we see often at our urgent care locations because we’re in Colorado.

Orthoinfo: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Sprains, Strains and Other Soft-Tissue Injuries (–conditions/sprains-strains-and-other-soft-tissue-injuries/)

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Sports Injuries (