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Sprains and strains

Find out what causes sprains and strains. They often occur while playing sports when you over-reach, change direction or speed suddenly or fall and land awkwardly.

Sprains and strains often occur during sporting activities or accidents that involve a fall or collision.

You're at risk of getting a sprain or strain if you:

  • overreach
  • change direction or speed suddenly
  • fall and land awkwardly
  • collide with an object or person

You can sprain your ankle if you accidentally put your weight on the outside of your foot. If your whole body weight presses down on the outer ligament of your ankle, it can stretch or tear. Ankle sprains sometimes occur when walking or running over rough or uneven ground.


Sprains and strains often occur when playing sports as a result of physical contact and the sudden acceleration and deceleration involved.  

Sports injuries are more likely to happen when a person starts a sport for the first time and their muscles aren't used to the physical stresses involved.

Experienced athletes can also get injured when they're 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 because of the intense nature of their training and the overuse of specific muscle groups.

Children are also at risk of injury while playing sports because they're still developing physically. However, despite the risk of injury, it's important to remember that physical activities have many important health benefits and can help increase a child's confidence and self-esteem.

Increased risk

There are a number of things that increase your risk of getting injured while playing sport or taking part in other physical activities. These include:

  • poor conditioning  a lack of regular exercise can weaken your muscles and joints, making them less flexible, which can mean they're more likely to become injured
  • 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
  • inadequate warm up  warming up before exercise helps loosen your muscles and increases your range of joint movement, thereby lowering your risk of sustaining a ligament injury; not warming up properly before exercising increases your risk of injury
  • fatigue  when your muscles are tired they're less likely to provide adequate support for your joints, and when you're tired you may find it more difficult to control your body's movements accurately

Read more about preventing sprains and strains.

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