Accidents happen; a stumble on a rug, a fall on the sidewalk, or an injury on the soccer field. But how do you know when it’s serious? Broken bones and sprains often have similar symptoms, making it difficult to tell how serious your injury really is and what kind of treatment you need. Treatment options vary greatly between bone fractures and sprains, so it’s important to have some guidelines on how to know if a bone is broken or sprained.
Bone Fractures vs Sprains
A fracture is a broken bone while a sprain is a stretched or torn ligament (tissue connecting two bones).
Sprains are generally the result of a fall, twist, or blow to a joint, which then overextends or ruptures the supporting ligaments.
- A mild sprain happens when the ligament is stretched but the joint remains stable.
- A moderate sprain happens when the ligament is partially torn, causing the joint to be unstable.
- A severe sprain is when the ligament tears completely or separates from the bone.
Typical symptoms include pain, swelling or inflammation, bruising, limited movement, or a “pop” sound in the joint. The most commonly sprained joint is the ankle.
Fractures can be crack, splinter, or complete break in one or more bones or cartilage as a result of trauma to the body. Symptoms are typically more severe and they include:
- Inability to move
- Severe pain in the area
- Inability to put weight on the bone or limb
- Protruding bone
Keep in mind that severe sprains can be just as painful as fractures and an x-ray is the only way to truly differentiate between the two.
First Aid for Broken Bones and Sprains
The most effective and immediate treatment for a sprain is to treat it with the RICE method: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce pain and inflammation as well. A fracture, meanwhile, most likely requires immediate medical assistance and should be treated as a medical emergency. Generally, a healthcare professional will first immobilize the area with a splint and elevate. Treatment typically involves a cast or other long-term brace. In the event of a severe fracture, physical therapy or an operative procedure might be recommended.
If you think that you or a loved one has a break or a sprain, the best step is to get to a doctor, ER, or urgent care. An x-ray can confirm or rule out a broken bone, and the medical professional can quickly diagnose your injury and provide treatment.
Know Where to Go for Care
If you suspect that you have a compound fracture, or if it is a break in a large bone such as the femur, or a suspected fracture in the head, neck, or back, then you should visit the emergency room immediately. However, if your symptoms don’t seem to require an emergency room visit, you might be better off going to urgent care.
The UrgentMED Network has 18 convenient walk-in clinics throughout Southern California, offering digital x-rays to confirm a diagnosis. The injury can be stabilized if necessary, and a treatment plan provided or referral made to a specialist. If you’ve experienced an accident and suspect a broken bone or sprain, don’t wait. Visit the closest UrgentMED clinic to you.
Broken bones may have a lot of causes, ranging from a hard one-time impact, lots of smaller impacts causing a stress fracture (such as what runners can experience), or a rolling or twisting motion that applies more pressure than the bone can take. A weakening of the bones, such as from osteoporosis, can also lead to fractures.
Symptoms of a Broken Bone
Do you think you may have a broken bone? Believe it or not, sometimes it’s not as obvious to determine as you might think. If you’re not sure, here are a few ways to tell:
Popping or Cracking Sounds – Some people report being able to hear the break happening. While abnormal sounds alone don’t guarantee that a bone has broken, they often warrant a trip to an urgent care or walk-in clinic, like our clinics in Venice and Long Beach.
Deformity – Some broken bones will stick out or be situated under the skin at angles they shouldn’t be, making it perfectly obvious they’re broken.
Bone Protrusion – If the broken bone is protruding through the skin, this is known as an open or compound fracture. Compound fractures are severe and require immediate medical attention.
Loss of Mobility – If you can’t say where any of them are broken, wiggle your fingers or toes. If doing so happens to be difficult or painful, you may have a break above that point.
Intense Pain – Breaks are painful, especially under pressure. If you’re experiencing a lot of intense pain, especially when the injured area is moved or put under pressure, you may have a fracture or break.
Numbness or Tingling – Sometimes an area that has suffered a broken bone will go numb or develop a tingling sensation. If this happens, get to an urgent care clinic as soon as possible.
Swelling or Bruising – Swelling or bruising around the spot of injury can also indicate a break.
Five Most Frequently Broken Bones
So which bones are the most common to break? Here are the five most common types of breaks.
Arm – Fully half of broken bones in adults occur in the arms, often when reaching out to stop or cushion a fall.
Clavicle – The clavicle, or collarbone, is another commonly broken bone. Because it’s long and thin, it can break easily if placed under pressure or duress, usually in the middle.
Wrist – The wrist is another common place to break a bone, especially on the side closest to your thumb. As with broken arms, this often happens when people reach out to catch themselves when falling.
Ankle – The ankle is another common area to break bones, usually by rolling or twisting the ankle, especially when wearing shoes that do not support the ankles.
Foot or Toe – You can break your toe or foot by tripping, dropping something on it, or even by repetitive stress that occurs with jogging, hiking, or other sports activities.
What to Do if You Think You Broke a Bone
A fractured bone requires prompt medical attention, as ignoring it can have serious consequences. For instance, even something as a broken toe or a slightly broken foot can cause lifelong chronic pain and arthritis if it doesn’t heal properly. Broken bones left unattended are unlikely to heal back to their normal shape and position. Walk-in clinic specialists can help set, cast, and splint a broken bone and can provide information on how to ensure the break heals as quickly as possible so that you can get back to daily life.
Let UrgentMED Take Care of Your Broken Bone
If you think you may have a broken bone, it’s important not to wait. Visit one of our 18 convenient locations in the UrgentMED Network and we’ll diagnose the issue. If it is a break or fracture, we can get it set properly right away so it heals correctly. Come into a location near you today. We offer free parking and are open every day of the year.