The Difference Between [and How to Treat] an Ankle Sprain and a Fracture

STAT Health December 26, 2017

It can be tricky to differentiate a fracture from a sprain, as both injuries can have the same symptoms and indicators. The fact is, it can be particularly challenging for children because their ligaments and tendons are stronger than their bones – and the bones usually break before the ligaments snap.

With almost every sprain, there is an ominous “pop” or significant bruising. But for the 25,000 people who suffer from an ankle sprain each day in the USA, it is possible that the popping sound or bruise that covers the injured area may instead be a fracture. See how to tell the difference and how to treat a sprained ankle vs. a fractured ankle.

When to see a doctor.

Signs of a serious fracture include obvious deformity of the affected area, rapid swelling, and the inability to use the injured limb. For instance, a collarbone is most likely broken if the arm on the affected side cannot be raised, and the shoulders appear uneven. Generally, you should be seen by a doctor if there are signs of blue or pale discoloration, pins and needles, and if the skin feels colder than an area of the limb that is not injured. And of course, the inability to move the limb due to weakness is a sign of a fracture.

The definitions are clear.

Although there are many variations of a fracture, the definition is quite simple. A fracture is defined as “a break or interruption in bone continuity.” But what exactly is a sprain? An ankle sprain, for example, can’t be as simply diagnosed as a fracture would be. A sprain involves some level of damage to a ligament, the purpose of which is to support the interaction between two bones. The damage can be a partial tear, complete tear, or a stretching of the ligament. This results in pain and instability of the joint.

An X-ray is the only way to determine a sprain versus a fracture.

It can be fairly easy to discern a sprain from a fracture with the aid of an X-ray machine or by undergoing an MRI. We therefore suggest you go for an X-ray in the event you should experience a fall that leaves you with some of the symptoms listed above.

At STAT Health, each of our locations is equipped with on-site X-ray technology that can determine a quick classification of an injury, and immediate treatment can be provided. This is the time of year when streets are slippery, and the risk of suffering fractures and sprains increases in frequency. Be prepared for the weather conditions and if you fall, be examined properly with an X-ray.

Let STAT Health help get you back on your feet and check-in at your nearest STAT Health location.