Is it a Sprain or a Fracture? (And What Should I Do About It?)

Well, you certainly did something bad. The pain is a testament to that.

Nobody ever plans on having a sprain or a fracture happen to their ankle. However, knowing exactly which misfortune you are dealing with isn’t always so easy to tell!

The symptoms for both injuries can be deceptively similar. Of course, we have the expertise and equipment to know what’s going on, but it never hurts to know some ways to determine what term you’re going to use when you call your family to tell them what happened.

Even more important is what you should do when you have a fracture or a sprain. We’ll be going into this, too! But first, let’s go over some terminology.

What Is a Sprain?

A sprain is an injury of the ligaments in your ankle.

What are ligaments? They’re tough, hard-working bands that hold your bones in place. Your joints depend on ligaments to remain where they need to be and have the stability to function. A sprain means a ligament has been stretched beyond its normal limits. In some cases, it may even be torn.

What is a Fracture?

You probably know this one, but we’ll lay it out anyway: a fracture is the breaking of a bone.

Fractures can take on different forms and different severities. There may be just one clean break where the pieces are still aligned. There can be breaks where each piece of the bone has shifted and may need to be moved back in place. There are also more complicated fractures where the bone has “shattered” into several pieces.

How to Tell the Difference Between the Two

May of the symptoms between a sprain and a fracture can be very similar. Quite simply, when something hurts badly, it hurts badly! Swelling can also be a factor in both cases, depending on the severity.

The best way to know what has happened is to see us about it (and you should always see a professional about any fracture or severe sprain). However, here are some indicators to watch for:

  • Is your ankle misshapen? This goes beyond swelling, to a significant tilt or bulge in the area. Not all fractures will show in this matter, but ones where the bones have shifted will.
  • Can you tell where the pain is, exactly? A fracture is more likely to hurt directly over the ankle bone. A sprain, on the other hand, will tend to be more painful within the soft part of the ankle, outside the bone.
  • Is there tingling or numbness? A fracture is more likely to create these sensations.
  • Did you hear a noise when it happened? If you heard a pop, it’s most likely a sprain. If you heard a crack or snap, it is more likely to be a fracture.

None of these signs is in itself a guarantee that you have a sprain or fracture . However, having several of these symptoms is an indication that something is wrong.

You should also not use “whether you can walk on it” as a determining factor. First, it can be possible to walk on either a sprain or a broken ankle. But more importantly, you should not try to walk on either injury if you can help it.

And that leads us to treatment.

So I Have a Sprain OR a Fracture—Now What?

Whether you feel you have a sprain or a break, the first immediate course of action you should take is putting a halt on what you’re doing!

Keep weight off the area as much as possible. Icing the area and elevating it above the level of the heart (carefully!) can also help with swelling and pain.

Next, come and see us. You will want to make sure what your injury is. A fracture will need immobilization and possible realignment to heal.

But even if you are 100% certain you have a sprain, it is still more than worth having a professional look to make sure there are no possible problems with healing.

Remember how we said your ligaments have the important job of stabilizing your joints? If they do not heal correctly, the risk of weakness, instability, and re-injury will increase.

When it comes to soft tissue injuries such as sprains, there are advanced treatments that can help accelerate and strengthen the healing process. One of them we’re proud to offer is Multiwave Locked System (MLS) Laser Therapy.

MLS Laser Therapy uses specific wavelengths of light to penetrate into the site of an injury and stimulate the cells within to repair. As an added bonus, blood flow is also stimulated to the area, providing more of the oxygen and nutrients the body needs to perform those repairs efficiently.

MLS requires no incisions and is painless. Sessions tend to be less than 10 minutes and the benefits are cumulative from session to session.

While MLS laser therapy is not for everyone, it can be a great, professionally used way to boost soft tissue healing where you really want things to recover well.

There are other methods of treatment that can work well for different cases, including physical therapy and custom orthotics. We want to ensure all is done to set you on the right track toward a healthy recovery and a reduced risk of chronic problems down the road.

Dr. Todd Stevens  and the staff of Associates in Podiatry are here anytime an injury strikes. Give us a call at (609) 924-8333 for our Princeton office or (908) 687-5757 for our Roselle Park office. The sooner a problem can be addressed, the better!