What causes sprains & strains? 7 Daily activities that increase your risk

Have you ever twisted your ankle while out for a run or felt a sudden sharp pain in your back after lifting something heavy? Chances are, you’ve experienced a sprain or strain.

Though these terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to injuries affecting different body parts.

A sprain occurs when the ligaments—the fibrous bands that connect bones in a joint—are stretched or torn. On the other hand, a strain involves an injury to a muscle or a tendon, which is the tissue that links muscle to bone.

Understanding what causes these common injuries can be a game-changer in approaching our daily routines.

Nobody is immune, whether you’re an avid gym-goer, someone who enjoys a leisurely walk, or spends most of your day behind a desk. Our everyday activities can put us at risk, sometimes in ways we might not expect.

What causes strains and sprains?

Strains and sprains are common injuries that affect the muscles and ligaments in our bodies, often causing pain, swelling, and limited mobility. These injuries usually occur when we overextend or tear these tissues during physical activities.

They are more common than you might think, and surprisingly, everyday activities are often the culprits behind these injuries [1].

Strains happen to muscles or tendons when pulled too far or bear an excessive load, while sprains involve the stretching or tearing of ligaments connecting two bones in a joint. 

Let’s break down seven routine actions that might be putting you at risk, offering some insights on how to stay safe.

1. Skipping the warm-up before exercise

Jumping straight into a workout without warming up is like driving your car in freezing weather without letting the engine heat up first. Sure, it might work, but you’re risking damage over time. 

Warm-ups prime your body for the physical stress it’s about to endure, increasing blood flow to your muscles and making them more flexible [2]. 

This flexibility is your best defense against sprains and strains, often when your muscles are cold and tight.

Consider this:

  • A light jog or brisk walk can increase your heart rate without putting too much strain on your body.
  • Dynamic stretches, like leg swings and arm circles, prepare your joints and muscles for the range of motion needed during your workout.

Skipping this crucial step increases your risk of injury and can dampen your performance. Giving your body those extra few minutes to gear up can significantly affect how you feel during and after exercise. 

So, next time you’re tempted to dive right into the heavy lifting or sprinting, remember that a short warm-up can save you a lot of pain and trouble.

prolonged sitting or standing

2. Prolonged sitting or standing

Staying in one spot for too long, whether glued to your chair or on your feet all day, can sneak up on you with unwanted side effects. Think of your body as a machine that needs to move to stay lubricated. 

Without movement, muscles and joints become stiff, making them more prone to sprains and strains when you finally do shift gears.

Here are some tips to break the monotony of immobility:

  • Set a timer to remind you to stand up or take a short walk every hour.
  • Try some light stretching or simple exercises like toe raises and shoulder rolls right at your desk or workstation.
  • If standing, shift your weight from one foot to the other, or consider a standing desk mat designed for comfort.

Making these small adjustments throughout your day can significantly reduce your risk of injury. Plus, it’s a great way to inject a little energy into your routine, keeping both your body and mind more alert and active.

3. Improper lifting techniques

Lifting something the wrong way is a fast track to a world of hurt. It’s not just about the heavyweight. Even a light box can cause a strain or a sprain if you twist awkwardly or fail to use your legs. 

When lifting techniques are off, your back, shoulders, and knees are especially vulnerable.

Keep these pointers in mind:

  • Always lift with your legs, not your back. Bend at the knees and keep your back straight.
  • Make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart, providing a stable base.
  • Hold the object close to your body to minimize strain.
  • Avoid twisting your body while lifting or carrying. Pivot with your feet instead.

These simple adjustments can make a big difference in protecting your body. Whether you’re moving furniture, picking up a toddler, or just grabbing a heavy grocery bag, remember to respect your limits and lift smartly. Your body will thank you for it.

4. Overuse of technological devices

The digital age has us hooked to screens for an unprecedented part of our day. Whether it’s for work or leisure, the constant typing, scrolling, and clicking can take a toll on our bodies. 

This overuse of technological devices often leads to repetitive strain injuries, where the same small muscles are used over and over, leading to sprains and strains [3].

To counteract the effects, consider these tips:

  • Use ergonomic keyboards, mice, and stands to ensure your setup supports a natural posture.
  • Take regular breaks to stretch your hands, wrists, neck, and shoulders.
  • Practice the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds to reduce eye strain.

Remember, integrating these small habits into your routine can significantly reduce the risk of strain injuries from technology use. Plus, they can improve your overall comfort and productivity. Let’s not let our devices dictate our health!

5. Playing sports without adequate training

Jumping into a sport without proper training is like taking a test without studying: you’re not setting yourself up for success. Sports demand specific skills and physical conditioning. 

Without these, you’re at a higher risk of sprains and strains because your body isn’t prepared for the stress and movements involved.

Here are a few ways to get ready safely:

  • Start with a conditioning program focused on the muscle groups most used in the sport.
  • Learn the correct techniques and mechanics. This can mean anything from the right way to throw a ball to the proper form for a tackle.
  • Gradually increase intensity and duration to build your fitness without overwhelming your body.

This approach doesn’t just minimize the risk of injury; it also enhances your performance and enjoyment of the sport. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or looking to join a league, investing time in training is crucial. Your body will be more resilient, and you’ll likely find even more love for the game.

6. Household chores and DIY projects

Who would think that tidying up the living room or fixing a leaky faucet could land you with a sprain or strain? Yet, household chores and DIY projects are full of movements that, without care, can lead to just that. 

It’s not just about heavy lifting; even repetitive tasks like scrubbing, sweeping, or painting can put undue stress on your body.

To keep safe while keeping your home in tip-top shape, remember these guidelines:

  • Use a sturdy step stool instead of reaching or stretching to get to high places.
  • When lifting something heavy, bend at the knees and keep your back straight.
  • Take breaks during longer projects to stretch and rest, especially if you’re in an awkward position for a while.

These small changes in how you approach household tasks can significantly reduce your risk of injury. Plus, they might make your chores feel a bit less like work. Happy fixing and cleaning – safely, of course!

7. Wearing improper footwear

The shoes on your feet can do more than just make a fashion statement; they’re pivotal in keeping you moving comfortably and safely. Wearing shoes that lack proper support or don’t fit well is a shortcut to sprains and strains, especially in your ankles and feet. 

High heels, for instance, can throw off your balance and put undue pressure on the front of your foot. Conversely, old, worn-out sneakers might not give you the cushioning or support your feet need.

Here’s how to step right:

  • Choose footwear appropriate for your activity. Running shoes for running, hiking boots for trails, and so on.
  • Make sure your shoes fit properly. Too tight or too loose can lead to problems.
  • Look for good support. Shoes should hold your foot firmly and offer adequate arch support.

Picking the right shoes can make a world of difference in preventing unnecessary strain on your body. Think of them as a tool that helps you do your job, whether that’s walking, running, or standing all day [4].

What can you do for a sprain and strain?

Prompt action can help speed up your recovery and minimize discomfort when dealing with a sprain or strain.

If you find yourself with a sprain or strain, taking quick and appropriate action can make a big difference in your recovery time. Here’s what you should do:

  • Rest: Give your injured area a break. Continuing to use it can worsen the damage.
  • Ice: Apply ice wrapped in a cloth to the affected area for 20 minutes every few hours. This helps reduce swelling and pain [5].
  • Compression: Use an elastic bandage to wrap the area snugly but not so tight that it cuts off circulation.
  • Elevation: Whenever possible, keep the injured area raised above the level of your heart to decrease swelling.

Pain and swelling are your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Listen to it. If the pain is severe, doesn’t improve with self-care, or you’re unable to use the injured area, see a healthcare provider.

In closing

The key to avoiding sprains and strains lies in our daily habits. From warming up before exercise to choosing the right footwear, small changes can greatly impact our risk of injury.

It’s about being mindful of our movements, whether we’re at the gym, working at our desks, or simply doing chores around the house.

But what happens if, despite our best efforts, we still end up with a strain or sprain? Remember, how we respond to the injury is just as important as how we try to prevent it.

Quick actions like resting, icing, compressing, and elevating the injured area can significantly aid in recovery. However, don’t hesitate to seek professional advice if your symptoms persist or worsen.


What causes sprains and strains?

Sprains and strains are often caused by overuse, improper use, or direct trauma to the muscles and ligaments. Quick movements, falls, or awkward positions are common culprits.

What is the difference between a strain and a sprain?

A sprain involves ligaments, the tough bands connecting bones in a joint, being stretched or torn. A strain affects muscles or tendons, the cords that attach muscles to bones.

What is the immediate treatment of a sprain or strain?

First, stop any activity to prevent further injury. Apply ice to the area for 20 minutes every few hours to reduce swelling.

How long can a sprain or strain last?

The duration of a sprain or strain can vary widely; mild cases might heal within a few weeks, while more severe injuries could take several months to fully recover.

[1] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/sprains-and-strains
[2] https://www.tricitymed.org/2016/12/warming-cooling-important/
[3] https://www.healthline.com/health/repetitive-strain-injury
[4] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Choosing-the-right-shoe
[5] https://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-sprain/basics/art-20056622

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.