Is it a Sprain or a Fracture?

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Published on May 24, 2019

Is it a Sprain or a Fracture?

woman holding anklePhoto of woman holding her ankleWhile the pain of a severe sprain or fracture may feel similar at first, there are distinct differences between the two injuries. First, a sprain is a stretched or torn ligament. A fracture is a crack or break in the bone. Because they are different injuries, it is important to know how to approach each one. 


While it’s common to sprain your wrist or ankle, a sprain can occur in any ligament. When a joint moves or lands in an unnatural way, the ligament stretches and becomes sprained. Symptoms may include muscle weakness and limited movement. Twisting an ankle or landing on your wrist are common injuries that cause sprains.


There are various types of fractures; however, most are typically caused by powerful trauma to the bone, like car accidents and significant sports injuries. Symptoms may include stiffness and inability to move or put weight on the injured limb. Conditions such as osteoporosis, as well as older age, can increase the chances of a bone fracture as the bones become less dense.

Caring for Your Injury

Very mild sprains sometimes can be treated at home. The R.I.C.E method will help alleviate some of the symptoms and contribute to the healing process. It’s important to begin this as soon as possible, usually continuing the process up to 48 hours after the injury.

  • Rest. Try to keep the injured area immobile to allow it to start healing.
  • Ice. Apply ice for about 15 minutes, three to four times a day, to reduce inflammation. Wrap the ice in a thin towel to ensure it does not directly touch your skin.
  • Compression. Use an elastic bandage to wrap the injured area to prevent swelling, especially as you try to bear weight on it.
  • Elevation. Raise the sprained area above the level of your heart to reduce pain and swelling.

Fractures and serious sprains will require medical attention. An urgent care center is suited to care for injuries, such as sprains, that are not extremely serious, while an emergency room is likely the best option to care for a broken bone. However, if you experience a serious injury or life-threatening emergency, please call 911.

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.