Causes of sprains and strains

The main causes of sprains and strains are sporting activities or accidents that involve a fall or collision.

Sprains or strains are most likely to occur if you:

  • over-reach
  • change direction suddenly
  • slow down or accelerate suddenly
  • fall and land awkwardly
  • collide with an object

Ankle sprains can occur if you lean onto the outside of your foot. This causes your whole body weight to press down suddenly on the outer ligament of your ankle which can stretch or tear it. Ankle sprains sometimes occur when walking or running over rough or uneven ground.


Sprains and strains often occur when playing sports, because of the physical contact and sudden acceleration and deceleration involved in sports.  

Sports injuries often occur when someone begins to take part in a sport for the first time and their muscles are not used to the physical stresses involved.

Alternatively, experienced athletes may injure themselves when they are at the peak of their training because the increased demands on their muscles can suddenly cause them to become strained. 

Competitive athletes such as sprinters, long-distance runners, gymnasts and footballers have a high risk of recurring muscle strains due to the intense nature of their training and the overuse of specific muscle groups.

Children are also at risk of getting sports injuries because they are still developing physically. However, while there is an increased risk of injury when playing sports, it is important to remember that they also have important health benefits and can help increase a child’s confidence and self-esteem.

Read more about sports injuries.

Increased risk

There are a number of things that make you more likely to develop an injury. These are described below.

  • Poor conditioning  a lack of regular exercise can make your joints less flexible and more likely to sustain injury.
  • Poor technique  the way you distribute your weight when walking or running, or the way you land after jumping can increase your risk of injuring your knee or ankle.
  • Fatigue  when your muscles are tired, they are less likely to provide good support for your joints. When you are tired you may also find it difficult to control your body’s movements accurately, which increases your likelihood of stressing or over-extending a joint.
  • Inadequate warm up – warming up before exercise helps loosen your muscles and increases your range of joint movement, lowering your risk of sustaining a ligament injury. Not warming up properly before exercising increases your risk of injury.

Read more about preventing sprains and strains.

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