Sprain vs. break: How to tell the difference | Norton Healthcare Louisville, Ky.

Is it a sprain or a break? Telling the difference can be tricky

Determining whether it’s a sprain versus a break when you twist your ankle, wrench a knee or put out your arm when falling can be difficult, as both can have overlapping symptoms, and sprains can hurt more than fractures.

Determining whether it’s a sprain versus a break when you twist your ankle, wrench a knee or put out your arm when falling can be difficult, as both can have overlapping symptoms, and sprains can hurt more than fractures.

Sprains occur when you injure the soft tissue that attaches to joints in your body. The ligaments may become overstretched or torn. A broken bone can range from the tiny cracks of a stress fracture to the clear emergency of an open fracture.

“If you think you may have broken a bone, it’s best to get a medical exam that likely will include an X-ray,” said Jessica R. Stumbo, M.D., internal medicine/pediatrics provider with Norton Community Medical Associates – LaGrange. “Sprains and breaks require different kinds of treatment. Putting off the right treatment for a break can cause it to heal improperly and contribute to arthritis and the need for surgery.”

If you’re confident it’s a sprain, follow the “RICE” instructions.

  • Rest. Use crutches or a sling to avoid using or putting weight on the injured limb for 48 to 72 hours. There’s no need to avoid all activity.
  • Ice. Apply a plastic bag with ice as soon as possible after the injury for 15 to 20 minutes as many as eight times a day for the first two days. Icing for too long can damage tissue.
  • Compress. Elastic wraps or sleeves can decrease swelling.
  • Elevate. Keep the injured limb above your heart when possible to limit swelling.

Symptom

Sprain

Break

Was there a noise? Silent or popping sound Maybe a crack
Swelling Gradual and mild Fast and severe
Changed shape Swelling only Swelling and the position of the joint or bone looks deformed or out of place
Pain Yes Yes, with numbness or tingling
Can you walk on it? Walk with soreness Can’t walk
Where does it hurt when you touch it? Soft areas Bone

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