sprains and broken bones

How to Tell if a Bone is Fractured or Sprained

Posted On Aug 16th 2022 , Bone Health
sprains and broken bones

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a sprain and a fracture unless you’re a trained medical professional. You typically have to visit a doctor or go to the emergency room so that X-rays of the injury can be taken for a proper diagnosis.

UrgentMED urgent care centers help people with painful sprains and broken bones without the long wait times of a traditional hospital. Compared to the long hours it can take for an injury to be treated, UrgentMED can provide medical treatment in a matter of minutes.

Is It a Sprain or a Fracture?

man trying to decide if its a broken bone

There are a few ways you can identify bone fractures vs. sprains without going to the emergency room. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you feel pain around the bone, in the soft, squishy tissue? If so, the injury is most likely a sprain. Most sprains can be very painful, but they usually don’t leave you immobile.
  • Do you feel pain over the top of the bone, where there are no tendons or ligaments? If so, the injury is most likely a broken bone.
  • If the injury is on your leg (such as the ankle bone), are you able to walk on it? If walking causes severe pain, or if your leg can’t hold your body’s weight, the injury is most likely a fractured bone.

If you are in excruciating pain and can barely move, or if the injured area feels a tingling sensation or numbness, visit an emergency room immediately.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Sprain?

ankle injury

Your joints are held together by connective tissue known as ligaments. When you twist or bend a joint abnormally, these ligaments can get stretched out and torn up. This is what we call a sprain. Sprains are usually classified as category I (mild), II (moderate) and III (severe).

A category I (mild) sprain doesn’t require medical attention; your body can heal on its own with a few days’ rest. On the other hand, category III (severe) sprains occur when the affected ligament is completely torn, resulting in severe swelling and bruising. A severely sprained ankle is unstable, meaning you cannot walk or put any weight on it. In these cases, it’s important to seek medical attention right away.

Common symptoms of a sprain include:

  • Pain around the injury
  • Mild bruising
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Limited range of motion in the injured joint
  • A popping sound that may have occurred at the time of injury

What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Broken Bone?

man with broken bones in leg

When a strong force is exerted on a bone—much stronger than the bone can tolerate—this leads to a fracture. A fracture compromises the strength and structure of the bone, causing pain, loss of function and even bleeding in some cases. Fractures often occur on the hip, ankle, and wrist.

Depending on numerous factors, including your age and overall health, some fractures can be more serious than others. In general, broken bones take about four to eight weeks to heal properly. When a bone breaks, you may notice:

  • Deformity of the injured location
  • Bruising over top of the bone
  • Severe swelling over the top of the bone
  • Inability to use the injured limb
  • Pain, especially when the injured location is moved or pressure is applied
  • Bone protruding from the skin

In some cases, particularly with small fractures, you can break a bone without even realizing it. Inspect the injured area to see whether it looks deformed. Is your limb bending in a way that it’s not supposed to? Do you hear a snapping sound? Is it painful to apply pressure to the area? If so, you should seek medical treatment.

What are the Different Types of Bone Fractures?

The medical treatment you receive will depend on the type of fracture:

  • A compound fracture occurs when the skin is ruptured by the bone or by an impact that breaks the skin. Immediate treatment with antibiotics is critical to avoid infection.
  • A stable fracture occurs when the broken ends of the bone are only slightly out of place. This doesn’t require a special type of treatment.
  • A comminuted fracture occurs when the bone shatters into three or more pieces. This is severe and almost always requires surgery.
  • An oblique fracture occurs when the bone breaks at an angle—often a diagonal line or an angled pattern—and the break goes all the way through the bone.
  • A transverse fracture occurs when the bone is broken perpendicular to its length; in other words, the break goes in a straight line across the bone. This usually happens to longer bones in the body after a fall or a vehicle accident, and can be treated at home with rest, physical therapy and antibiotics for pain and swelling.

Regardless of the type of bone fracture, it’s important to seek medical treatment as soon as possible. If you think you’ve broken your finger, toe, arm, or leg, visit an UrgentMED clinic near you. If the injury is severe—such as on your neck or back—or you’re unable to get to an urgent care center, call 911 immediately.

Do I Need Surgery for a Severe Sprain or Fractured Bone?

Usually, no. The majority of sprains and fractures can be treated with conservation treatment and do not require surgery.  However if the break is severe and needs to be stabilized, you may need surgery. If you have managed to watch the injury for a few days and reduce swelling, the injury is likely not too serious.

With category III (severe) sprains, when the tendon or ligament is completely torn, surgery and physical therapy are generally necessary.  The torn tissue may need to be surgically reattached for proper healing and to prevent further damage.

Visit an UrgentMED Clinic Near You to Treat a Sprain or Broken Bone

UrgentMED urgent care clinics are fully equipped to handle mild to moderate sprains and non-life-threatening fractures in a timely manner. Our medical centers are conveniently located across Los Angeles and Southern California, and provide a convenient way to see a doctor for most general inquiries. For any questions, please contact us online or call or simply walk into your nearest UrgentMED clinic today.


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