How do I tell the difference between a sprain and a fracture?

The region where you feel most pain may help you determine if you have a sprain or a fracture. If your pain seems to occur only in the soft tissue areas and not across the bone, you might have a sprain, whereas a fracture typically entails severe pain and deformity of the injured region.

Sprains occur when a ligament connecting two bones is stretched or torn, while fractures happen when a bone breaks. Although the injuries are completely different, determining which one you are dealing with can sometimes be a challenging task, as their symptoms are quite similar.

Firstly, you should examine the affected area by touching it. If you feel pain by pressing on the soft tissue, you most probably have a sprain. If, however, you experience tenderness or aching while pressing on the bone (the fibula, for instance), you might have suffered a fracture. A sprain is generally more painful than an actual break of the bone.

There are a several signs by which you can identify a fracture, including:

  • Deformity, grinding, popping or discoloration of the injured area
  • Sudden severe pain
  • Numbness
  • Inability to move or put pressure on the injured joint
  • Bruising and swelling
  • Point tenderness while pressing directly on the fracture

If you have a sprain, you will not notice deformity, although discoloration and swelling might appear, and you will also be able to move or put light pressure on the injured joint, even if it is painful.

A sprain, as well as a break, is a painful injury which requires proper treatment. After injury, you should follow the RICE (rest, ice, compress and elevate) therapeutic approach right away in order to alleviate swelling and pain before going to the emergency room.

Disclaimer: We do not assume responsibility for the use of the provided information or its interpretation. Our efforts are towards providing current and reliable information; however these should not be considered, or used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment.

Source: https://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Education/Medical-Library/

Meet Our Physicians