Sprain vs. Fracture — What’s the difference?

Sprain vs. Fracture — What’s the difference?

The Difference Between a Sprain vs. Fracture

Falls, car accidents, and sports trauma can all lead to injuries ranging in severity from mild to severe. Sprains and fractures are something you may have experienced from any one of those mechanisms. Getting early treatment for the more severe injuries can save you a lot of pain down the road.

Sprain vs. Fracture

Sprains and fractures can have many of the same symptoms, making it difficult for you to determine which one you’ve sustained in an injury. However, the difference is pretty simple — a fracture is a break in your bone, while a sprain is a soft tissue injury.

Sprains happen when the ligaments around your joint either stretch too far or tear. This can happen for several reasons, such as a fall or a sports injury. Sprains can be mild or severe and have a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Trouble moving the injured area
  • Popping sound or sensation around a joint

You can usually treat mild-to-moderate sprains at home with rest, ice, and anti-inflammatories. Occasionally a sprain will be severe enough that surgery is required for it to heal properly.

Fractures most often occur from some kind of trauma, such as a car accident or a severe fall. When you break a bone in your body, one of the first symptoms you’ll notice is immediate pain around the injury. You may also experience:

  • Deformity of the limb
  • Inability to put weight on the injury
  • Crepitus, which is a normal sign with a fracture caused by the ends of the fractured bones rubbing together. This causes an audible crunching sound
  • Swelling and bruising

Unless the bone is actually poking through your skin, you need an X-ray to determine that you’ve sustained a fractured bone. If the fracture is severe, you may also need an MRI or CAT scan to rule out damage to other structures such as ligaments, tendons, and muscles.

Although sprains and fractures are very different, they share a lot of the same symptoms, so it’s important for you to get medical treatment if you’re unsure of your injury.

When to see an ER doctor?

A broken bone and sprains can cause you a lot of discomfort. If you’ve suffered a severe fracture and part of your bone is piercing through your skin, seek immediate medical attention. When you aren’t sure whether or not you should seek expert care, keep in mind the following reasons that you should get help immediately:

  • Inability to put weight on the affected limb
  • Numbness around the injury
  • Signs of infection such as fever or red streaking around the injury
  • Intense pain or swelling not relieved by home care
  • Pain right on top of a bone around the injury

Determining the need for urgent medical assistance can save you from long-term complications that can arise by delaying medical intervention. If you’re ever unsure, come in and see us to ensure your injury is treated promptly.

When You Should Go to the Emergency Room (ER)

Since it can be difficult to tell the difference between a fracture and a sprain, how do you know when to go to the emergency room or see your doctor? Here is a cheat sheet that lets you know exactly when you should go to the doctor immediately after an injury.

  • Can you walk more than four steps? You can watch the injury and wait to see what happens
  • Can’t walk more than four steps without excruciating pain? You need to go to the emergency room
  • Is the injured location numb or tingling? If it is, you should go straight to the emergency room for treatment

If you’ve suffered a more severe broken bone, you may require more invasive treatment to ensure that your bones heal completely and properly.

Visit one of our ER locations close to you. Our board-certified physicians will get you taken care of within the comforts of our fully-stocked facility. We accept walk-ins – No appointment is needed.