Strains, Sprains, Fractures: What’s the Difference?

Strains, sprains, and fractures have one thing in common — they’re all injuries that occur to our musculoskeletal system. They can be caused by a fall, sports-related injury, accident, or in some cases, just a sudden and incorrect movement.

These three types of injuries share many things in common, especially in the symptoms that they manifest. There are, however, key differences that can help you identify which one you’re suffering from.

Differentiating strains, sprains, and fractures

Prior experience in healthcare or enrolling in a course for first aid training in Perth (or other major cities) can provide you with more information about musculoskeletal injuries.Another way to understand the difference between strains, sprains, and fractures is by knowing the proper definitions and examples for each.

“You strain your tendons.”Strains can be a twist, pull and/or tear of a tendon and/or muscle. Tendons are cords of tissue that connect muscles with bones.

Examples of causes:

  • Pulling a muscle in the gym
  • Suffering a blow to the body

“You sprain your ligaments.”Sprains are a stretch and/or tear of a ligament, which is the tissue that connects two bones. Ligaments stabilise and support the body’s joints.

Examples of causes:

  • Landing awkwardly from a jump
  • Walking or exercising on an uneven surface

“You fracture your bones.”Fractures are a break, chip, or complete fracture of the bone, mostly caused by accidents, sports injuries, or bone weakness.

Examples of causes:

  • A fall from a motorcycle that leads to broken bones
  • Osteoporosis (a bone disease that makes bones easier to break)

Typical symptoms of strains, sprains, and fractures


Strains can be acute or chronic. Both of these types have symptoms localised to the muscle groups or tendons that are injured. Pain can afflict a small area or a large area, such as an entire group of muscles.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle spasm
  • Swelling
  • Inflammation
  • Cramping


Sprains usually have symptoms that are more localised to the injured joint. If a joint is injured, it’s possible to feel a tear or pop in the joint. Pain is immediate in most cases, and depending on the intensity of the injury, it might be impossible to use the joint.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Instability of the joint
  • Decreased range of motion


A fracture is a break in a bone of your body. There are several different types of fractures: greenstick, transverse, oblique, spiral, compression, comminuted, and segmental.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Painful or limited motion
  • Deformity

Preventing musculoskeletal injuries:

Accidents can happen when you least expect them, and it’s almost impossible to completely prevent an injury. However, there are steps you can take to reduce the effect of an injury or minimise injuries from happening in the first place:

    • Maintain a healthy body weight
    • Get in shape and build muscle strength
    • Exercise daily
    • Always stretch before any physical activity
    • Wear proper clothing and equipment for specific activities
    • Eat a well-balanced, calcium- and vitamin-rich diet
    • Don’t engage in any physical activity if overtired or in pain


First aid treatment:

When it comes to treating strains and sprains, use R.I.C.E.: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.Applying R.I.C.E. immediately after an injury can help minimise the damage.On the other hand, a severe sprain or strain may require surgery or immobilisation followed by physical therapy.

If you suspect you may have a bone fracture, you should seek immediate medical attention. Some fractures can cause damage to surrounding tendons, muscles and, in some cases, veins and arteries, which have critical functions for your body’s blood supply.

When in doubt, consult a doctor

As much as you may feel like you can handle an injury, it’s always best to talk to a medical professional to make sure you are getting the proper diagnosis and treatment. This is crucial for your recovery and can help reduce the chances of aggravating the injured part.