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Understanding Sprains and Strains -- Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on May 10, 2021

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:

  • 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.