| Understanding the Difference Between Sprains, Strains, and Fractures
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Understanding the Difference Between Sprains, Strains, and Fractures

Understanding the Difference Between Sprains, Strains, and Fractures

People use the terms sprains, strains, and fractures interchangeably when discussing sports-related injuries. This confusion is understandable given the similarities between the three. In fact, only a trip to the doctor can confirm which of the three plagues you. When you hurt your feet or ankles, it’s good to know the difference between the injuries so you know what you’re dealing with and can have a speedy recovery.


When it comes to sports injuries, sprains are extremely common. A strain involves the ligaments in the ankle. If your ankle is twisted or turned side-to-side with a lot of force, it may become sprained. When this happens, you’ve stretched the outside of your ankle.


If your doctor says you have a strain, it involves your tendons. Tendons can rupture if they stretch too far, resulting in a painful strain. This injury is very similar to a sprain, with the only difference being the part of your ankle that’s affected.


Perhaps the most painful of all is the fracture. A fracture involves the bones and is a much more serious injury. Doctors may diagnose these as a sprain or strain because they look similar. Like strains and sprains, the patient will have bruising, swelling, and extreme tenderness.

How Do Doctors Evaluate Ankle Injuries?

To determine whether you have a sprain, strain, or fracture, you’ll have an X-ray. Doctors use X-rays to diagnose fractured bones. The use of a CAT scan or MRI is common in ruling out a fracture. If it’s a sprain, an MRI will detect it right away.

What Merits a Trip to the ER?

If you rate the pain of your foot or ankle injury on the high side of a 1-to-10 pain scale, go to the emergency room. If you can’t bear weight on the injured foot or ankle and the swelling is noticeably getting worse, this is also a reason to seek immediate medical attention. Don’t wait until the next day if your injury seems severe. Quick treatment is vital to recovery. Depending on your injury, your doctor will probably say to treat it with ice, rest, and compression. In serious cases, your doctor may give you painkillers. With a fracture, it’s likely that you’ll also have a removable brace or cast to keep the bones together and encourage healing.

Feet and ankle injuries can be serious. You only get one body, so it’s important to protect it the best you can. To help prevent these painful injuries make sure you’re wearing the right shoes with extra support. You also want to strengthen the muscles in your ankle, which will help prevent twisting and falling. Lastly, learn your limits and stick with them. Whether you are exercising for fun or are training for a big sporting event, you can’t exceed your limits or you could face a strain, sprain, fracture, or something worse. Take breaks often and never try to train through serious injuries, as this could halt the healing process and possibly cause permanent damage.

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