A strain refers to a pulled or injured muscle. A sprain refers to a pulled or injured ligament. Ligaments are comprised of white, tough, fibrous tissues that connect one bone to another bone. In general, ligaments take longer to heal than muscles because ligaments have poor blood flow. Blood provides the nutrients for healing power.
There are in general two categories of strain and sprain injuries that occur to the spine based upon the mechanism of injury. These types of injuries include intrinsic and extrinsic injuries. Intrinsic injury means that the person is under control of the circumstances at the onset of the low back pain. For example, a person who picks up a garbage can (regardless of weight) and develops low back pain will set down the garbage can immediately and thereby limit the extent of an injury. After such lifting-related injuries, the expected healing time is a matter of a few days to six weeks with a vast majority of such physical exertion-related strain injuries healing within a month.
The other type of strain and sprain is characterized as extrinsic. Extrinsic means an injury that is beyond one’s control. For example, a person who is rear-ended at high speed in an auto accident does not have the luxury of making a mental note that she is being involved in a car accident at the onset and stopping the accident mid stream and getting out of the car so that she does not get hurt further. Instead, trauma occurs beyond her control which can lead to stretched or torn ligaments and muscles beyond the normal anatomic limits that would be self-imposed with the intrinsic trauma described above.
With this stated, still fortunately approximately 90% of those with whiplash-related injuries get better and make a full recovery from their neck pain by one year from the time of the accident.