Often you hear different terms thrown around such as sprain and strain. What exactly is the difference?

The term strain is associated with an injury to the muscle or tendon, whereas the term sprain is associated with an injury to a ligament.

Muscle strains occur in the presence of a load that exceeds the ability of the muscle/tendon to tolerate the load. This results in overstretching of the muscle/tendon.

Common areas of muscle strains in the lower body:

  • Hamstrings
  • Quads
  • Calf
  • Groin

Common areas of muscle strains in the upper body:

  • Rotator cuff muscles
  • Biceps

Muscle Strains is classified under 3 Grades:

Grade 1

Grade 2

Grade 3

mild strain with a small number of fibers affected

nearly half of the muscle fibers are affected

complete tear of the muscle

no reduction in strength, full range of motion

decrease in muscle strength

no muscle strength

pain and tenderness in the affected area

swelling and moderate pain

significant swelling and severe pain

Key Factors that can lead to a muscle strain:

  • Muscle Tightness
  • A tight muscle that cannot stretch when necessary is more prone to tearing
  • Unstable joint
  • A joint that lacks muscular/ligamentous support will force other muscles to tighten to compensate
  • Previous injuries to that area or surrounding areas
  • Injury to the knee can be affected by an “old” ankle or hip injury
  • Sudden increase in activity duration, intensity or frequency
  • Weak muscles
  • A muscle with a low capacity to load is more prone to injury

In the presence of a muscle strain, what can you expect with physiotherapy at Movement Performance Centre?

  • Activity Modification: Modification of activities to allow for healing and prevent further injury to the muscle
  • Game Ready Pro – intermittent pneumatic compression and ice to reduce excessive formation of swelling and pain management
  • Modalities – ultrasound and electrical current for healing and pain management
  • Mobilizing and Strengthening of surrounding areas to reduce pain and stress on the affected area (example: strengthening the glute muscles to reduce the load on the quads during a squat or vertical jump to accomplish the same weight or height)
  • Restore Range of motion and strength of the affected area – at minimum, equivalent to that of the other limb.
  • Optimize Balance and proprioception required for daily activity and sport


How do we identify and measure progress?

By using multiple tests such as a postural assessment, range of motion, force testing, the Selective Functional Movement Assessment and Functional Movement Screens, we can identify areas of concern that need to be addressed and note whether progress is truly translating into function and daily life.

Author: Zachary Hum MScPT BAKin