Strains and sprains are injuries that can easily be confused because they have such similar symptoms. Because these injuries are quite common and have similar spellings, the names tend to get used interchangeably.

These injuries often occur in similar situations such as athletic activities, accidents such as slips or falls, heavy lifting, and long periods of repeated motion. They are however different injuries involving different tissues in your body.

The symptoms that these injuries share include pain, swelling, limited flexibility, and decreased range of motion. A sprain is the stretching or tearing of a ligament. A ligament is a band of tissue that connects two or more bones together at a joint.

One thing you might see with a sprain that you won’t typically with a strain is bruising. You may also feel a “pop” when the injury happens. A strain is a stretched or torn muscle or Ligament. A ligament is fibrous tissue that connects muscle to bone. One symptom that could indicate there is a strain instead of a sprain is muscle spasms.

If you have one of these injuries and it isn’t severe it can be treated with the RICE method. This stands for rest, ice, compression, elevation.

Over the counter pain medicine such as Ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be helpful with the pain and swelling. Most of the time you would want a healthcare provider to help you with treatment unless the injury is minor.

It is important to see a doctor if you experience any of the following: numbness in the injured area, inability to walk more than a few steps without significant pain, or if you can’t move the affected joint.

There are some steps you can take to help prevent these types of injuries from occurring.

Make sure you gradually increase your workload and don’t over exert. When you get worn out it becomes difficult to use proper form and this could increase your risk of injury.

It is also important to make sure your shoes and other equipment are in good shape and fit properly. Worn out shoes and gear don’t serve their purpose of providing protection and support as well as they should and this can increase your risk of injury. Also, make sure the environment you are working out in is safe.

Avoid wet, icy, or slippery surfaces as sliding out of form and proper position can lead to sprains, strains, and other injuries. The last tip is to Warm up and cool down properly. This is probably the most important part to preventing sprains, strains, or other injury. Make sure you do some simple less strenuous exercises before starting your full workout to get your body ready for the more intense activities.

Sprains and strains are common and sometimes are just a part of being active. Be safe and you can avoid some of the annoying nagging injuries.

Tyler Glidden is the wellness director for the McPherson Family YMCA. He has a bachelor’s degree in Health Promotion and Wellness and a master’s degree in Exercise Science.