Here are the definitions of the words from Oxford Living Dictionaries:

sprain - wrench or twist the ligaments of (an ankle, wrist, or other joint) violently so as to cause pain and swelling but not dislocation.
Few dancers manage to perform without ever spraining an ankle.’

twist 1.6 - injure (a joint) by wrenching it.
he twisted his ankle trying to avoid his opponent's lunge’

What is the difference in meaning between these two terms? Is it the pain and swelling that is mentioned for sprain? Is there no pain or swelling in a twisted ankle?

  • 1
    I'm not sure there's a medical distinction between these two words, except maybe one of degree. When I twist my ankle, it definitely hurts, but it doesn't take weeks to recover the way a sprained ankle would. Nov 16, 2017 at 22:17
  • 1
    It's a perfectly clear and valid question, the OP forgot to cite the source, but it was always clear that the definitions came from a dictionary. I have improved the formatting, added a link, cited the source, and added the word "ankle" in the title. Minimal stuff, really.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 16, 2017 at 22:29
  • In my schoolbook it says that one can twist their ankle, but that they can sprain their thumb, wrist, and ankle as well, this is what got me confused in the first place.
    – Alister
    Nov 17, 2017 at 4:33
  • Could we please be clear, the examples cited are useless? The only useful thing here is Peter's doubt, which is wholly justified. If any one of us thinks trying to avoid his opponent's lunge in any way helps explain he twisted his ankle let him please justify it now or forever hold his peace. Equally, how exactly is it clear that Few dancers manage to perform without (ever) spraining an ankle means anything different from … painting an ankle red/green/blue. Please, anyone trying to justify those examples, step up now. Nov 21, 2017 at 21:32
  • @PeterShor agree. A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments, the tough, fibrous bands of tissue that connect bones to one another at a joint. A strain is an overstretching or overexertion of some part of the musculature. A typical patient's subjective complaint is "I twisted my ankle". If indeed it is just a strain, we agree the patient just twisted his ankle and teel him to take to aspirin and call in the AM! A sprain is treated more aggressively as the affected body part is useless and eccyhymotic.
    – lbf
    Mar 17, 2018 at 21:40

1 Answer 1


The twist is the action. The sprain is the result, i.e. the end state of the action.

In English the two are often hard to distinguish. For example, consider the verb to score, as in He Shoots. He Scores. The equivalent French expression, lance et compte, could be translated literally as he shoots, and his shot counts. In French, the counting of the goal is the clearly the end state of action. However, in English, we use score to describe both the action of scoring and the end state of having scored.

There are pairs of words in English where the action and the end state have different origins, and by playing around with gerunds and participles, you can create similar problems, e.g. polish and shine, applied to furniture, shoes, floor tiles, etc. A shiny shoe is not necessarily a polished shoe.

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    This isn't the way I use the words. I would never say that somebody who had to go around on crutches for three weeks had "twisted" their ankle; I use "twist" for the less severe end of the spectrum of sprained ankles. And I believe that this is what the dictionary definitions the OP found are trying to convey. Nov 18, 2017 at 13:14

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