Is It a Fracture or a Sprain?

Ankle PainWhen a person gets injured, it can be difficult for them to know whether they’ve experienced a sprain or broken a bone. A sprain occurs when the connective tissues in a joint, known as ligaments, are stretched or torn. A bone fracture is more serious, requiring prompt treatment to ensure proper healing. Symptoms of a sprain typically include pain in the soft tissue but not the bone, as well as still having the ability to move the limb. A fracture, however, tends to cause intense pain over the bone and an inability to properly move the area. Knowing which injury has happened is important for determining the best treatment option.

Immediately after an injury, you should begin the RICE method of recovery: rest, icing, compression, and elevation. Rest the area; apply ice or a cold compress in 20-minute increments; compress the limb with a bandage to immobilize it; and elevate it at a level above the heart. This four-step process can help reduce pain and swelling, but if this does not resolve your symptoms, you should see a professional to be diagnosed.

Both a sprain and fracture can cause significant pain, bruising, swelling, and difficulty moving or putting pressure on the affected limb. However, a sprain can sometimes heal with adequate rest and immobilization using a brace—though more severe cases may require physical therapy or even surgery. A bone fracture, on the other hand, is more traumatic and is typically treated with a cast to hold the bones in the proper position as they heal. Surgery may be needed for serious breaks to potentially insert screws or rods.

If you’ve been injured and aren’t sure whether you’ve sprained or broken the limb, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor to be evaluated. X-rays may be performed to assess the damage and determine if the bone has a fracture.