5 Symptoms of sprains and strains most people ignore

Sprains and strains might sound like minor issues to some, but anyone who’s had one knows they’re anything but trivial. We often associate these injuries with athletes or people engaged in physical work, but the truth is they can strike anyone at any time.

Perhaps it’s lifting something the wrong way, taking a misstep, or even sleeping in an awkward position. Suddenly, you’re dealing with discomfort that can range from annoying to downright debilitating.

Ignoring these signs might seem easy, especially when life keeps you on your toes. However, paying attention to what your body is trying to tell you can make a big difference in your healing process.

So, if you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, it’s worth considering them. After all, taking care of your body is about listening to it, even when it’s whispering.

What are the symptoms of sprains and strains?

Understanding the symptoms of sprains and strains is crucial for timely and effective management of these common injuries.

When it comes to sprains and strains, it’s not just the immediate, eye-watering pain or the dramatic swelling that should catch our attention [1]. There are quieter signs, the kind that sneaks up and linger, often dismissed or entirely missed amidst our daily routines. 

Both conditions manifest through various signs, though they target different parts of the body – ligaments in the case of sprains and muscles or tendons for strains. 

Understanding these symptoms can be a game-changer in managing and healing from these injuries. So, let’s talk about the symptoms that don’t always make the headlines but are just as crucial.

What are the symptoms of sprains and strains?

1. Mild persistent pain

Unlike the sharp, take-your-breath-away kind of pain that demands immediate attention, this type feels more like a constant, low-grade annoyance.

It’s easy to brush it off or blame it on a busy day or a bad night’s sleep. However, it’s worth a closer look, especially if it’s lingering longer than a typical soreness would.

This pain doesn’t really come and go; it’s more like a background noise that’s always there. You might not feel the need to take pain medication, yet it doesn’t completely disappear with rest.

This isn’t an all-over body ache but is localized to specific areas, often where sprains and strains occur.

It can interfere subtly with daily activities: While it might not stop you in your tracks, it could make certain movements more uncomfortable than usual.

Listening to this subtle signal and addressing it early can prevent more serious issues down the line.

2. Slight swelling that doesn’t subside

Slight swelling that doesn’t subside is like a quiet alarm your body sets off to indicate an underlying issue, such as a sprain or strain.

This swelling might be so subtle that it’s easy to overlook, especially if it’s not causing significant discomfort or noticeably limiting your mobility. Yet, it’s the persistence of this swelling, rather than its intensity, that should catch your attention.

Because it’s not dramatic, many people don’t give it a second thought. Unlike normal swelling from a bump or bruise, this doesn’t seem to go down with time.

This swelling is usually confined to one specific area directly where the injury occurred. You may only see it when comparing the injured area to its uninjured counterpart.

Acknowledging and addressing this slight swelling can help in identifying sprains or strains early, allowing for timely intervention and care.

3. Reduced range of motion

A reduced range of motion can sneak up on you, often dismissed as stiffness or needing to “loosen up.” It’s a crucial clue your body offers, suggesting that a sprain or strain might be putting the brakes on your usual flexibility.

This symptom might not shout for attention like severe pain or swelling, but it whispers something that shouldn’t be ignored.

  • You might notice it most when reaching, bending, or performing movements that were once easy.
  • Often, it becomes more evident over time as you realize certain actions aren’t as fluid as they used to be.
  • Sometimes, this limitation is most apparent when engaging in specific activities or exercises.
  • Comparing the affected area’s range of motion to the unaffected side can highlight differences you hadn’t noticed.

Paying attention to these quiet signs of a reduced range of motion can lead to early detection and treatment, helping to avoid further injury.

4. Discomfort during specific movements

This symptom, often stemming from a sprain or strain, may not always be front and center. It tends to show up only when you’re making certain moves or engaging in activities that put stress on the injured area.

It’s this selective discomfort that makes it easy to dismiss or overlook, especially if you can avoid the pain by simply not performing that particular motion.

Notice how certain actions, perhaps lifting objects or twisting, bring on discomfort. The level of discomfort can range from mild to sharp, depending on the movement.

Because you can dodge the pain by avoiding certain movements, it’s tempting to just adapt and move on. Paying attention to which movements cause discomfort can help pinpoint the injury’s location.

Recognizing and respecting this discomfort as a sign can guide you toward seeking the right treatment and avoiding activities that may worsen the condition.

5. The sound or feeling of a pop at the time of injury

This sudden and often surprising sensation can indicate a more serious issue, such as a torn ligament or muscle [2]. It’s a moment that can be easily remembered because it’s distinct from the usual strains and sprains where such a dramatic cue is absent.

Despite this, the immediate pain might not always match the intensity of the sound or sensation, leading some to underestimate the severity of the injury.

The pop is an unmistakable indicator that something significant happened to the body’s structure. Surprisingly, the initial pain may not reflect the seriousness of the injury.

How you respond right after hearing or feeling this pop can influence your recovery process. Even if you feel okay to continue your activity, it’s crucial to stop and assess the situation.

Taking this sound or sensation seriously and seeking prompt medical advice can prevent further damage and aid in a smoother recovery.

How can sprains and strains be avoided?

Preventing sprains and strains is key to maintaining an active and injury-free lifestyle. These injuries, while common during physical activities, can often be avoided with the right precautions. 

Here’s how to reduce your risk:

  • Warm up properly – Engaging in dynamic warm-up exercises increases blood flow to your muscles, making them more flexible and less prone to injury.
  • Strengthen muscles – Regularly participating in exercises that strengthen the muscles around your joints can provide better support and reduce the risk of sprains and strains.
  • Wear appropriate footwear – Shoes that provide proper support and fit well can drastically reduce the chances of ankle and foot injuries.
  • Be mindful of your environment – Paying attention to uneven surfaces or other potential hazards can help avoid unexpected twists and turns that lead to injury.
  • Listen to your body – Recognizing when you’re fatigued and allowing yourself time to rest can prevent overuse injuries, as tired muscles are more susceptible to injury.

Understanding why subtle symptoms of sprains and strains are often overlooked requires a look into our daily lives and how we perceive health and discomfort.

Life’s fast pace and our ability to adapt can sometimes work against us, particularly when it comes to recognizing and acting on the less obvious signs of injury. Here are some reasons why these crucial cues get missed:

Busy lives

Our hectic schedules often eclipse subtle signs of injury. With work, family, and other commitments vying for our attention, it’s easy to brush aside mild discomfort.

A persistent ache or slight swelling can seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things. We prioritize pressing tasks, relegating our health to the backseat. 

Rushing from one obligation to the next, we overlook signals from our bodies, assuming they’ll resolve on their own. In this constant hustle, self-care takes a backseat. 

Yet, recognizing the importance of listening to our bodies can prevent minor issues from escalating into major concerns.

Tolerance and adaptation

Our bodies are incredibly adaptable, often masking discomfort as we go about our daily routines. Here’s why:

  • Adaptability: Our bodies adjust to minor aches and pains, allowing us to carry on with our tasks [3].
  • High tolerance: We’re accustomed to pushing through discomfort, downplaying its significance.
  • Normalization: Over time, what initially felt abnormal can become the new normal, making us less likely to notice subtle changes.
  • Functionality over discomfort: As long as we can still function, we might ignore discomfort, assuming it’s temporary.
Tolerance and adaptation

Misunderstanding of severity

Sometimes, we misjudge the seriousness of our symptoms, especially when they don’t fit the typical image of a severe injury. Here’s why:

  • Lack of dramatic cues: Without intense pain or visible signs like swelling, we might assume our discomfort isn’t significant.
  • Minimal impact on daily life: As long as we can still go about our usual activities, we might downplay the severity of our symptoms.
  • Underestimation: We might believe that minor discomfort couldn’t possibly signal a serious issue, leading us to ignore it.

Fear of overreacting

The fear of overreacting often holds us back from seeking help when we should. Here’s why:

  • Social stigma: We worry about being perceived as dramatic or making a fuss over nothing.
  • Fear of dismissal: We’re concerned that healthcare professionals might not take our symptoms seriously, leaving us feeling embarrassed or invalidated.
  • Self-doubt: We question whether our discomfort is truly worth addressing, second-guessing the severity of our symptoms.
  • Desire to avoid inconvenience: We’d rather avoid the hassle of medical appointments and treatments unless absolutely necessary.

Lack of knowledge

A lack of knowledge about injury symptoms can lead us to overlook important signs. Here’s why:

  • Ignorance of red flags: Without understanding what to look out for, we might not recognize subtle cues indicating an injury.
  • Misinterpretation of symptoms: We might attribute discomfort to unrelated causes, overlooking the possibility of an underlying issue.
  • Limited awareness: Many people aren’t aware that seemingly minor symptoms could signal a more serious problem.
  • Failure to connect the dots: Without knowledge of the body’s warning signs, we might dismiss symptoms as unrelated or insignificant.

By understanding that even minor symptoms can indicate underlying issues, we can encourage more timely and appropriate responses to injuries like sprains and strains. This not only promotes better immediate outcomes but can also prevent long-term complications, ensuring individuals remain active and healthy.

Final takeaways

Recognizing the subtle symptoms of sprains and strains is the first step towards taking better care of ourselves. By understanding why these cues often go unnoticed and addressing these barriers head-on, we can prioritize our health and well-being more effectively. 

With proactive steps, you can ensure that you’re giving your body the attention and care it deserves. Your health is worth investing in, and addressing minor symptoms today can lead to better outcomes tomorrow. So, listen to your body, take action when necessary, and prioritize your well-being every step of the way.


What are the common causes of sprains and strains?

Sprains and strains often result from sudden movements, overexertion during physical activity, or accidents where joints or muscles are forced into unnatural positions.

When should I seek medical attention for a sprain or strain?

If you experience severe pain, inability to bear weight, significant swelling, or if symptoms persist despite home treatment, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional.

How long does it take to recover from a sprain or strain?

Recovery time varies depending on the severity of the injury, but most mild to moderate sprains and strains improve within a few days to weeks with proper care and rehabilitation.

[1] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/sprains-and-strains
[2] https://www.upmc.com/services/orthopaedics/conditions-treatments/sprains-strains
[3] https://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-sprain/basics/art-20056622

Photograph: KostiantynVoitenko/Envato Elements
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