Sprains and Strains

What are sprains and strains?

The term ‘soft tissue injury’ usually refers to injuries to muscles, ligaments and tendons, with these injuries a common problem in relation to physical, sporting and recreational activities.

A sprain is when these ligaments become overstretched, overworked or torn. The wrist, knee and ankle are the most common locations for a sprain and it is a common and painful injury.

A strain is slightly different and occurs when a muscle becomes overstretched and partially torn, with commonly strained muscles including the lumbar (lower back), quadriceps (front upper leg) and hamstrings (back upper leg), as well as the gastrocnemius and soleus (calf) muscles.

Quick and appropriate treatment is needed to ensure the body can recover quickly from both sprains and strains, with delayed or inappropriate management slowing down the recovery and healing process and leave you in discomfort or pain for longer.

Grades of sprains and strains

Ankle sprains have been graded according to their severity: [2]:

  • Grade I — mild stretching of the ligament complex without instability of the joint.
  • Grade II — partial rupture of the ligament complex without instability of the joint.
  • Grade III — complete rupture of the ligament complex with instability of the joint.

Muscle strains are graded depending on the severity of muscle fiber damage:

  • First degree strain — a mild strain where only a few muscle fibres are stretched or torn. Although the injured muscle may be tender and painful, it has normal strength, although power may be limited by pain.
  • Second degree strain — a moderate strain, with a greater number of injured fibres and more severe muscle pain and tenderness. There is also a noticeable loss of strength, mild swelling and sometimes a visible bruise.
  • Third degree strain — a strain which tears the muscle all the way through, sometimes producing a ‘pop’ sensation as the muscle rips into two separate pieces or comes away from its tendon. This strain results in a total loss of muscle function.


The severity of symptoms depends on the seriousness of the sprain, but common symptoms and signs include :

  • Tenderness, swelling and inflammation.
  • Pain
  • Functional loss (for example pain on weight-bearing).
  • Bruising


The symptoms of a muscle strain depend on the severity of the injury, but can include [1]:

  • Pain in the affected muscle.
  • Muscle function may be affected, depending on the severity of the strain.
  • Bruising (haematoma) because of the intramuscular blood vessels becoming torn.
  • Swelling.

How to treat sprains and strains

As mentioned previously, quick and appropriate treatment is important to aid the healing process and lower the risk of a recurring injury. The immediate application of a Physicool cooling bandage to the affected area can help to reduce inflammation and pain.

In the early stages, soft tissue injuries are characterized by an acute inflammatory response, in which PRICE (Protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation) is one of the most recommended approaches for managing soft tissue injuries. The aim of doing this is to reduce swelling, inflammation, bruising and pain in order to create the optimum conditions for healing to take place.

Seek medical advice if:

  • Your sprain or strain does not improve with home treatments (rest, cooling therapy, over the counter medications).
  • There is significant pain, swelling or loss of function
  • You think there may be a fracture

How Physicool can help

Physicool’s reusable cooling and compression bandages are ideal for both first aid and helping the recovery and rehabilitation process, helping to alleviate pains and to help reduce swelling, allowing the muscles and tendons to heal.