How to Tell Whether You Have a Sprain or a Broken Bone

Posted by The Urgency Room on Friday, March 12, 2021
Keywords: sprain vs broken bone

Whether you stumble on a loose rug, the dog runs out from under you, or you trip while on a run, accidents in unpredictable yet simple ways. It’s important to understand when an injury crosses that threshold from semi-serious to very serious. For the average person, determining whether you have a fracture or a sprain isn’t always easy. Fractures and sprains may even produce similar symptoms, making it a mystery to solve on your own. 

If you or a loved one has suffered a severe injury you think could be a sprain or a fracture, your best course of action is to head to the Urgency Room right away for a proper diagnosis. However, in the meantime, we’ve put together this guide to help you better understand the differences between a sprain and a fracture. 

How to Tell if You Have a Sprain or Fracture

A fracture is a break in the bone. The severity of the injury ranges significantly, depending on whether you’ve fractured your bone in multiple places or just a tiny break. If left untreated, fractures can heal improperly, leaving you with irreversible damage or causing you to need surgery down the road.

A sprain happens when a ligament has been damaged. Your ligaments are meant to stretch and bend, but only to a certain extent. When a ligament has been torn or stretched beyond its limit, a sprain results. The severity of a sprain also ranges significantly.

How can you tell whether you’ve suffered from a fracture or a sprain? While both injuries produce similar symptoms, there are a few ways you might be able to determine which one it is. 

Broken Bone Symptoms

If you think you could have a fracture, there are a variety of symptoms to look out for. There can also be different signs depending on whether your bone is partially or completely fractured. Some symptoms of a fracture include:

  • Pain at the site of the fracture
  • The pain is isolated directly on top of the bone
  • Pain worsens if movement or pressure is applied to the injured limb
  • You heard a “cracking” sound when the injury occurred
  • Severe swelling, numbness, or tingling
  • The injured area is misshapen or you can see bone poking through the skin

If you are experiencing numbness, tingling, or can’t walk more than a couple of steps without excruciating pain, head to a medical professional right away to be treated. 

Sprain Symptoms

A ligament is the tough bands of fibrous tissue connecting two bones together at the joint. When they are stretched or torn, the result is a sprain. Sprains can happen to any joint and can often be quite painful. If you believe you could have suffered a sprain, there are several symptoms to look out for. Symptoms of a sprain may include: 

  • Pain isolated in the soft tissue over the bone, rather than on the bone
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Limited movement or mobility of the injured area
  • You hear a “popping” sound when the injury occurred
  • You may still be able to put weight on it, despite the pain

If you are unable to bear weight or move the affected joint, there is pain directly over the bone, or the affected area feels numb, seek medical treatment as soon as possible. 

Treating a Fracture or Sprain

If you or a loved one has suffered a severe injury that could be a sprain or fracture, you should head to the nearest Urgency Room for a proper diagnosis and treatment. However, sometimes you are unable to immediately seek care. In the meantime, you should care for the affected area with the RICE method. 

The RICE method includes:

  • Rest: avoid using the injured area as much as possible
  • Ice: ice the injured area to reduce swelling and pain
  • Compression: wrap the injured area in a soft bandage
  • Elevation: elevate the injured area above the heart

If a fracture or sprain isn’t treated correctly, it can result in improper healing, resulting in further problems and pain over time. 

Get Properly Diagnosed at The Urgency Room

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury resulting in serious pain, head to the Urgency Room today for a proper diagnosis. Waiting to be diagnosed and treated can result in improper healing. You shouldn’t have to wait for hours in the emergency room—by heading to the Urgency Room, you’ll be treated quickly and efficiently.

Our board-certified emergency room physicians are equipped and ready to evaluate your injury, determine the best course of treatment, and help get you back to your normal activities again. We are open 365 days a year in three convenient locations—Woodbury, Vadnais Heights, and Eagan. Don’t wait to be treated and head to the Urgency Room today.

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