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Healthcare 101: Is It a Break or a Sprain?

What goes up must come down. And unfortunately, our joints bear the brunt of our awkward landings while jumping, running or just walking around. As joints swell, bruise, and grow increasingly painful, it’s often difficult to determine if you’ve endured a sprain or fracture. Furthermore, it’s not always easy to know if you should visit an urgent care or go to the emergency room. Here are a few facts about sprains and fractures, and how one should treat them:

A sprain occurs when an injury results in ligaments (the tissues that connect bones) getting pulled, stretched, or (in more severe cases) torn.

A strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon.

A fracture is an actual break in one of the bones involved.

Symptoms: With both fractures and sprains, you’ll experience limited mobility, tenderness, bruising and swelling. With a strain, you might experience cramping, muscle spasms and stiffness. In the case of a fracture, you might not be able to put any weight on the injured body part. Severe sprains can be just as painful as fractures. An X-ray is the only way to truly differentiate between sprain and fracture.

How to Treat a Mild Sprain

If you think you have a mild sprain– that is, you can put some weight on the area and move it around a bit — you can see if it improves in a couple of days. During that time, the RICE method (R – Rest the injured body part; I – Ice the area; C – Compress the area with an elastic wrap or bandage; E – Elevate the injured body part above your heart whenever possible) is preferred for recovery. If the swelling does not subside and your range of motion does not improve, consult a medical professional.

When to Consider Urgent Care

Sometimes it’s just nice to know whether you have a sprain or a fracture. All CareSpot locations offer digital X-rays in-house to confirm a diagnosis. Following that, the injury will be stabilized if necessary. A treatment plan will also be developed, or a referral will be made to an orthopedic practice if more specialized treatment is required.

When to Go to the Emergency Room

  • Anytime there is a compound fracture (i.e. a protruding bone). Call for help and do not move the patient.
  • If the limb or joint appears misshapen or deformed
  • If there is any possibility of a broken bone in the head, neck or back (do not move the patient).
  • If there is significant bleeding or an open wound near the broken appendage.
  • If the area of concern is cold, numb or turning blue.

If your symptoms don’t seem to require an emergency room visit, stop by CareSpot for an X-ray to determine the nature of your injury and next steps for a treatment plan.