Do You Have a Fracture or a Sprain?

Some injuries can be tricky to diagnose on your own, without the benefit of medical training (or an X-ray machine). A prominent example: how can you tell if a bad ankle injury is just a severe sprain or an actual break? In order to get the best treatment, it’s important to know the difference and identify the problem—more than once, we’ve seen people who were surprised (even shocked!) when we told them their lingering “ankle sprain” was actually hiding a pretty bad break.

The symptoms of each injury can be similar, and the fact that both can occur at the same time makes it even more of a challenge. Many times, a sprain may “mask” the broken bone underneath, making it harder to detect.

Either way, you’ll want to get a professional diagnosis to be sure, but here are some insights that might suggest that your ankle may, in fact, be broken, rather than just sprained:

  • Fractures tend to be more painful than sprains—unless the injury causes total numbness, which also tends to indicate a fracture rather than a sprain.
  • Dark bruises and blisters are more likely with a fracture.
  • With a fracture, it’s more likely you won’t be able to move your injured foot or bear any weight on it due to the pain.
  • You feel tenderness when you press on the sides of your leg just above the “bump” on either side of your ankle—this could indicate a fracture in the tibia or fibula.
  • You notice any deformity to the bone structure—things don’t look as they should.
  • Swelling and pain continue to last for several days after the injury, despite rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE therapy).

It’s important to quickly determine whether a fracture is possible. Although both sprains and fractures are serious injuries that require medical attention, breaks are more critically important to stabilize immediately.

Always take ankle injuries seriously—even a moderate sprain can become a nagging, chronic injury if not allowed to heal properly. To make an appointment with the sports injury care experts at Advanced Foot and Ankle Specialists of Arizona, please call us at (480) 963-9000.

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