What’s The Difference Between An Ankle Strain And Sprain?

person holding bandaged ankle

If you’ve recently injured your ankle, you’re likely wondering if you’ve suffered a sprain or a strain. Both are painful and require care, but a strain and sprain are not the same things. Both strains and sprains can be significantly serious, though, and you’ll need to visit the doctor to prevent long-term damage.

Here are some of the ways you can tell whether you’re suffering from a sprained ankle or a strained ankle.

The Difference a Strain and Sprain

It can often be difficult to tell the difference between a strain and sprain, especially when it comes to ankle pain. It’s easier to tell whether you strained other muscles, but ankle injuries are hard to diagnose at home.

These injuries are hard to categorize by yourself because they present many of the same symptoms. It will be uncomfortable to walk for a while, and the ankle will swell and become tender in both cases.


A sprain occurs when ligaments in a joint stretch beyond their physical capabilities. You can sprain your ankle doing almost any physical activity, but they often happen as a result of an injury.

If you jumped and landed on the side of your foot, for instance, you’re likely dealing with a sprain and not a strain.

Although a sprained ankle might not seem like a big deal, they can be quite serious. Severe sprains result in torn ligaments, which may require surgery to correct. Those who experience severe sprains will be unable to walk on the injured leg without assistance.

With these injuries, you’ll need to visit a doctor to have them assess the situation. You can manage minor sprains at home, but we still recommend seeing a doctor to prevent further damage to the injured ankle.


A strain deals with muscles and tendons instead of ligaments. You can also strain your ankle by rolling it, but you’re more likely to experience a strain over a sprain if the pain started after a seemingly routine activity.

Strains are also incredibly painful, which is why it can be difficult to tell the difference between a strain and sprain. Sometimes, you can determine if you’ve strained your ankle by testing the strength, but it’s not always easy to tell yourself.

Like sprains, strains can be extremely serious. You can care for mild strains at home, but severe strains result in muscle tears. You’ll need surgery to repair the damage and a lengthy healing period.

The Importance of Staying Active

If you want to avoid ankle sprains and strains, it’s important to stretch and warm up before your physical activity. Additionally, if you live a sedentary lifestyle, you’re restricting the movement of your joints, muscles, and ligaments.

Staying active and stretching are two of the best ways to make sure you don’t injure any muscles, tendons, or ligaments in your body – including those in your ankles.

Worried about the severity of your sprain or strain? Still having trouble figuring out which one it is? Give us a call and set up an appointment!

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