Sprain: Definition and What it is

Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT

Sprain Definition and Meaning

A sprain is a stretch or tear of ligaments, the band of tissue that connects two bones together in your joints. Common places to experience a sprain include the ankle, knee, and wrist. Sprains can cause a range of symptoms, from mild discomfort to ongoing pain, swelling, and limited movement in the joint. 

Sprains: A Hinge Health Perspective

Hearing that you’ve “torn” something in your body can sound scary, especially if you've never had a sprain before, but the soft tissues in your joints are very resilient and designed to recover and heal.

It’s natural to feel hesitant to bear weight on a sprained ligament, like at your knee or wrist, but gentle exercise and movement are actually needed to maintain range of motion in the affected joint. Engaging in exercises that support your healing and strengthen the affected area (plus surrounding muscles) can help prevent future injury.

Types of Sprains

Sprains vary in severity, from mild to severe, depending on how much tearing occurs in the affected ligament. In most cases, sprains, while uncomfortable, aren’t serious and can be treated at home with conservative measures to restore ligament function and full range of motion.

Sprain Examples

Sprains can happen during exercise or just in the course of everyday life. A misstep, awkward landing, or a fall can all lead to a sprain at different ligaments throughout the body. When a sprain happens, you may actually hear a “pop” in the joint. This may indicate that a ligament has become injured during movement. But a popping sound isn’t always a bad sign. 

Sprain vs. Strain

It’s easy to mix up strains and sprains. A crucial difference between a sprain and a strain lies in the tissues they affect. Sprains involve injuring ligaments that attach two bones together. Strains happen when you injure a muscle or tendon. One simple trick to remember the difference between a sprain (which affects ligaments) and a strain (which affects tendons and muscles) is that strain has a “t” like tendon. 

Prevention and Treatment

Most of the time, you can treat  sprains at home. You may be familiar with the R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation) approach. While there are certain elements of R.I.C.E. that are still recommended, this is actually an outdated model and experts now recommend a more updated treatment approach: P.E.A.C.E. and L.O.V.E. This framework prioritizes movement and exercise as integral to recovery. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. 

Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.


  1. Mulcahey, M.K. June 2020. Sprains, Strains, and Other Soft-Tissue Injuries. OrthoInfo. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/sprains-strains-and-other-soft-tissue-injuries/ 

  2. Sprains and Strains. (n.d.). Medline Plus. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/sprainsandstrains.html   

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