Muscle Strains vs. Ligament Sprains: Identifying the Source of Back Pain

So What’s the Difference Between Sprains and Strains?

In a nutshell:

• A Sprain is generated by ligaments (bands of tissue which connect our bones), becoming overstretched (with the stretch often going in the wrong direction) [1]. Note: Overstretching our ligaments in our ankle (for example, twisting our ankle when our shoe goes to one side), is the most usual type of sprain, and one which Pain Doctors treat all the time. If you have a sprain, you may experience a pop or tear in the joint when it happens. After this, the joint is likely to feel unstable or stiff. If you have a sprain, then on examination, your Pain Doctor may mention its grade.

• A Strain is somewhat similar to a sprain, however, in this case, instead of just the ligaments being stretched, the muscles and tendons (the latter being robust bands of fibrous tissue which connect our bones to our muscles), are strongly impacted. Note: the hamstring is the muscle which is most impacted by strains [1]. Moreover, Pain Doctors are frequently called upon to treat back strains since they are very common. – This is often due to not positioning the body and knees correctly when lifting something heavy, or lifting or pulling something which is too heavy, and as a result, causes spinal misalignment and other issues

Note: inline with the forcefulness of the sprain or strain, the pain will be mild, moderate or severe.

Areas of the Body

The most common regions of the body which are liable to sprains and strains, are the back, knee, wrist, ankle – and somewhere you probably wouldn’t think of – the thumb [1].

Did You Know that Sprains and Strains Share Similar Symptoms?

These similar symptoms, include:

•Pain (the most common)
•Loss of mobility (indeed, in the case of both strains and sprains, people’s range of motion is negatively impacted, and whilst it may not negate functioning, functioning will not be optimal) [1]
And this is why getting an accurate diagnosis from a Pain Specialist is so important. Moreover, treatment will be able to ameliorate the situation, and stop it from getting any worse, which could lead to having to take time off work, etc.

The One Difference to Look Out For

The only difference between sprains and strains symptoms, is that sprains generate bruising, whereas and strains don’t. The latter impact muscle, and as a result, generate muscle spasms, instead [1].

So What Actually Causes Sprains and Strains?

These occasional events often surprise us, and are usually unexpected. We could, for example, turn in an awkward position, and as a result, end up with a sprain or strain. Moreover, particular scenarios generate a greater risk of spraining or straining part of our body [1].

Taking Part in Sports

Sports enthusiasts suffer from regular sprains and strains due to repeated exercise which renders stress on muscles or joints, or partaking in a particular physical activity [1]


Any state of overexertion or repetitive motion can physically stress the body, thereby risking sprain or strain in various area [1]

Awkward Positions or Movements

Standing up, turning or sitting, without being mindful of conducting the movement in a beneficial way, can rapidly result in a sprain or strain [1]


Lifting heavy objects in the wrong body position poses a danger to muscles, tendons and ligaments, and this can easily bring on a sprain or strain. In some cases, this action can cause serious back issues, which can lead to immense pain [1]. If these issues are not treated by a Back Specialist, then the chances of them getting worse, and causing other associated issues, is very high.


[1]. Felson, S (2021). “Sprain vs. Strain: What’s the Difference?”