Difference between Sprain and Fracture

Updated on February 4, 2017

It’s not just athletes and very active people who can suffer from sprains and fractures. These injuries can occur even in common situations like hurrying to catch a bus, running up the stairs, or taking a wrong step. Since these can happen so easily, should we not know the difference between sprains and fractures?

Definitions

Sprain
Sprained ligaments

A sprain is damage done to one or more ligaments. The cause of such damage is the unintentional extension of the joint beyond its natural range of movement. Running, missing the landing of a jump, taking a wrong step, or leaning on your wrist the wrong way can lead to sprained ligaments. In severe cases, the ligaments can tear and only surgical intervention can fix them. Recovery varies according to the severity of the sprain. To reduce swelling, it’s best to not use the affected limb and keep it cool with packs of ice. In the case of foot injuries, keep it elevated.

How do you know you have sprained a ligament? Pain is the main indicator in this case. Normally, your movement is restricted. Also, the area swells and bruises. Also, with ruptures, the sprain itself can even be accompanied by a popping sound. Diagnosis is done through physical examination and X-rays. MRIs are necessary in the case of injuries that take too long to heal.

fracture
Fractured arm

A fracture is an injury of the bone. It occurs when there is a severe impact on the bone that puts too much pressure on it and breaks it. This can happen with or without the broken bone penetrating the skin. The severity of the fracture itself can vary from a crack in the bone to it completely breaking up.

The worse the damage, the more visible the fracture is. The affected limb can appear deformed, swollen, red, or bruised. Also, a snap or a grinding sound may accompany the fracture, depending on the severity of the trauma. Medical intervention is necessary immediately after a fracture has occurred. A cast is put on the limb to keep it still and help it heal properly. Some patients even undergo surgery to place the bones back together. Diagnosis of a fracture requires X-rays.

Sprain vs Fracture

So what is the difference between a sprain and a fracture?

A sprain is an injury of the ligaments, while a fracture is an injury of the bone. In the most severe cases, these imply the breaking of the ligament or the bone. However, doctors can diagnose a mild sprain after a physical examination if they do not suspect a tear of the ligament or anything worse. A fracture, on the other hand, is visible from the deformity of the limb, and an X-ray will help the doctors see the severity of the injury.

A normal sprain that does not imply the tearing of the ligament and surgical intervention should take somewhere between 7 and 14 days to heal properly. A poorly cared for sprain can cause long-term problems. On the other hand, a general range for a fracture to heal is four weeks. Bones heal but they need to be put back in place and kept still by a cast. If surgery is necessary to repair the fractured bone(s), recovery time is even longer.

Comparison Chart

SprainFracture
Injury of the ligamentsInjury of the bone
Can take 1 – 2 weeks to healCan take more than a month to heal, and longer in the case of surgery
Is diagnosed though physical examination and X-RaysCan be seen through the skin if the bone is broken and the limb is deformed; X-rays determine how bad the injury is
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