Sprains vs Breaks: What is the Difference?

Sprains vs. Breaks: What is the Difference?

Have you even injured your foot or wrist while playing your favorite sport or hobby? Did you sprain it or did you  break it? 

Did you have increased pain with redness, warmth or swelling? What is the difference regarding Sprains vs Breaks? The definition of a sprain is to over stretch or tear a ligament.  Ligaments connect bones together and give stability to the joint.  A sprain can occur when the joint is forcefully moved beyond it's normal degree of motion.  An ankle sprain or a wrist sprain are the more common sprains which can occur.

The quick answer is a break (fracture) is when the bone integrity is disrupted.  A break can occur when the bone is stressed beyond the force that is can support.  This may occur with unexpected forceful injuries such and a fall, sports collision, or a car crash.

The anatomy of the ankleAnkle Anatomy

Sprains vs. Breaks: What are Common Symptoms in the Ankle and Foot? 

Sprains and breaks in a foot can be very common since 25% of the bones in our bodies are located in our feet (this includes 26 bones per foot, 100+ muscles, and 33 joints). There are a number of injuries which can occur in our feet.

Because ankle injuries are some of the most common orthopedic injuries, we will discuss the sprained ankle symptoms and broken ankle symptoms.  Both sprains and breaks (fractures) of the ankle can cause significant swelling a pain.  Typically, a break is more likely if you cannot tolerate taking 3 steps on the injured leg.  Being unable to bear weight would be an indication to seek medical attention.   A sprained ankle or sprained foot may cause some pain with weight bearing and would also likely swell.

Treatment for a break may include immobilization such as bracing or casting to allow the bones to heal.  This typically takes 4 to 8 weeks.  Physical therapy maybe required after immobilization to restore motion, strength and function.  Treatment for a sprain may include rest, ice, compression, and elevation for the first 48 to 72 hours, then gradual movement and strength training with physical therapy, depending on the severity and the number of ligaments and structures involved.

Sprains vs. Strains can also have very similar symptoms but are initially treated very similarly.  A strain is overstretching or tearing in a tendon or a muscle.

Sprains vs. Breaks: What are Common Symptoms in the Wrist?

 Determining whether you have a wrist sprain or a break can be tricky, as they both can cause pain and swelling.  They both may limit movement as well.  It is important to consider how the injury occurred.  If there was a traumatic injury such as a fall or an accident, it may be necessary to seek medical attention to determine whether an X-ray is needed.  There are numerous bones and ligaments in the wrist and hand that can become injured.  With fractures, casting or immobilization may be needed to allow the bones to heal.  With a sprain, Physical or occupational therapy may be needed to restore proper movement and strength.

Sprains vs. Breaks: If it's a Break, Do I have to Wear a Cast?

Immobilization is sometimes necessary to ensure that injuries heal properly.  Sprains vs. Breaks typically heal well if they are treated properly.  The problem with casting is that it typically cannot be removed by the patient and it cannot get wet.  Fortunately there is now another option!  The Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute has partnered with ActivArmor bring removable custom hard casts to patients.  The certified specialists a JOI use cutting edge technology to take a 3D image of the injured area. A removable cast is constructed using 3D Printing.  This gives patients another option when treating Sprains vs. Breaks.  To schedule physical therapy at one of the 12 JOI Rehab Centers, please call 904-858-7045.

JOI ActivArmorImage of guy in mud with ActivArmor on wrist

Sprains vs. Breaks: Both are inconvenient, but both are very treatable.  If you need help with sprains vs. breaks (fracture) come see us at JOI!  JOI and JOI Rehab are now offering Telehealth Services and ASAP Fracture or Injury Appointments.  Please call 904-JOI-2000. We are, "Where the Pros Go!"

By: Michelle Duclos, ATC, Sports Medicine Director

Skip to content