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Sprains and Strains in Children

Sprains and strains are types of injuries. A sprain is an injury to a ligament while a strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon.

Ligaments and tendons are 2 kinds of fibrous tissue in the body. They connect different parts of the body. Ligaments are found at the joints, where they join bones together. Tendons attach muscles to bone.


A sudden stretching, twisting, or tearing of a ligament causes a sprain. This injury can happen when a child falls or suffers a hit to the body. Sprains often affect the ankles, knees, or wrists.

A pulling or tearing of a muscle or a tendon causes a strain. This type of injury can happen suddenly, such as when a child overstretches a muscle. Or it can happen over time if a child overuses a muscle or tendon. Overuse can occur during activities that require similar movements be repeated over and over.

Risk Factors

Active teens or those who play sports are most at risk for a sprain or a strain. These injuries are not common in younger children. That is because their growth plates are weaker than the muscles or tendons. Growth plates are areas of bone growth at the ends of long bones. Instead, younger children are more likely to have broken bones.


Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Initial treatment for a sprain or a strain includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). Other treatment choices may include:

  • Pain medicines, such as ibuprofen
  • Activity restrictions
  • Splint or cast
  • Crutches or wheelchair
  • Physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the injured muscles, ligaments, and tendons
  • Surgery, especially if the injury reoccurs or if a muscle, tendon, or ligament is badly torn

Sprains and strains heal quite quickly in children and teens. Make sure your child follows any activity restrictions and stretching and strengthening exercises to prevent reinjury. The risk for reinjury is greater in the first 2 months, but can occur even after that.


Many sprains and strains are sports injuries. They are from either injury or overuse of muscles or joints. Many sports injuries can be prevented by:

  • Warming-up first
  • Training and conditioning properly
  • Wearing the right protective gear
  • Using the right equipment

You can help your child prevent overuse injuries by making sure your child:

  • Sets aside 1 to 2 days per week for rest from competitive sports and training
  • Takes breaks from a specific sport during the year
  • Focuses on fun, skill-building, safety, and sportsmanship when playing sports
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