Connect with us

Buffalo Bills

Football Injuries Uncovered: Strains vs. Sprains



There is no vaccination for soft tissue injuries in the NFL. They come during training camps in copious amounts. Soft tissue injuries are cool, but do you really know the difference between a strain vs sprain? Like they always say, ‘When your man’s got a tear, do you know where?’

Before you begin the journey of understanding the disparities of strain vs sprain, you need to know the chief commonality. They both are described as tears. Tears are graded 1-3. Grades 1 and 2 are mild to moderate tears, while the ‘grade 3’ is a complete tear that will likely require surgery.

Someday, your fan crush is going to tear that ACL. Was that a sprain or a strain though? Another day, you might hear your neighbor tore their hamstring doing Bikram yoga. Well did they sprain it or strain it? Let’s explore …


These are injuries of the muscles and tendons. If you’re not sure what those are, see the image below. The muscles are red and the tendons are white. This is the thigh, which is commonly referred to as a quad(ricep).

Quadriceps muscle.jpg
Tendon Strength & Connective Tissue Health 💪 GMB Fitness

So, in a nut shell, when we strain, we are tearing a muscle or tendon. If you want to sound savvy at the next fantasy football draft, refer to a player’s hamstring tear as a hamstring ‘strain’. You will be the life of the party.

Hamstring Injury - Fit As A Physio | Mosman

These injuries can carry a wide variety of healing time. Grade 1 strains can take as little as 1 week to 3 weeks. Grade 2 strains will take around 2-6 weeks.  Whereas, Grade 3 will almost always require a surgery. If a player does require surgery, there is almost always a 3+ month recovery, barring any expedited return.

C:\Users\alucci\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.MSO\1513DF44.tmp

Look out for strain slang.  Common jargon includes these common phrases: pulled a hammy, tore a quad, popped a pec, ripped off a bicep. These are all strains, and they are because they involve tearing of muscles or tendons.

Throwing you for a loop, tendons can also have a special condition called tendonitis. This is inflammation/swelling of the tendons. Commonly due to overuse, tendonitis can evolve and eventually fall (tear) apart. Your parents might have had rotator tendonitis. They also might have then ended up having a rotator cuff tear. These carry the same healing timelines, usually in the 1-6 week return.


Jump ship, and climb aboard the sprain train. Sprains are tearing of the ligaments. Well, what are those? Ligaments are the tissues that connect two bones together. They can be imagined as rubber bands. See below for a depiction of this phenomenon. The bones are brown and the ligaments are white.

Ankle Ligament Injuries - Podiatry, Orthopedics, & Physical Therapy

They carry the same healing timelines as muscle strains, and are graded the same: 1-3. The lower the grade, the quicker the return. 

The Three Degrees (types) of Ankle Sprains

In the sprain game, you can hear a variety of common phrases: rolled an ankle, tore an ACL, and separated shoulder to name a few. 

To summarize, we should look back at recent Bills’ injuries. In 2019, Harrison Phillips had a grade 3 sprain of his ACL, which required surgery and he missed the rest of the season. In 2020, Matt Milano likely had a grade 2 pectoral strain, which required several weeks to recover from.