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First Aid & Emergencies

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Understanding Sprains and Strains -- Symptoms

What Are the Symptoms of Sprains and Strains?

Sprains affect your joints. Strains affect your muscles. Both usually occur after a fall or sudden movement that violently pulls or twists a part of your body. Chronic overuse of muscles or joints can also cause strains and sprains.

Symptoms of a sprain:

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  • Feeling a tear or pop in a joint followed by pain, swelling, and bruising
  • Stiffness or instability of the joint 
  • Warmth and redness of the skin near the affected joint

Symptoms of a strain:

  • Sharp pain at the site of an injury
  • Muscle spasm, swelling, or cramping


Call Your Doctor About a Strain or Sprain If:

  • The pain, swelling, or stiffness does not improve in two to three days
  • You feel a popping sensation when you move a sprained joint; this may indicate a serious injury that requires immediate medical treatment.
  • You can't move or bear weight on an injured joint; you may have a broken bone.
  • The bones in an injured joint don't seem to be aligned properly, in which case the ligaments that hold the joint together may be badly torn, requiring surgical repair.
  • An injured muscle doesn't move at all; the muscle may be torn completely through and require immediate medical attention.
  • You have repeated sprains or strains, indicating a chronic weakness that should be evaluated by a doctor
  • You have difficulty moving or walking after straining any back muscle
  • You have a fever, and the injured area is red and hot; you may have an infection.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Lisa B. Bernstein, MD on March 18, 2015

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