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It’s always a risky proposition to try and self-diagnose, to say the least. While we all may feel like we’re Dr. Google sometimes, it’s always best practice to see a medical professional if you’re suffering with the symptoms of an injury or illness. Let’s focus on injuries in particular because it can be difficult for many people to properly gauge what it is they’re experiencing and what they should do about it.

The natural impulse is to see a doctor if you get hurt. It’s probably a good idea to do that. But, we’ve all had the experience of getting hurt, going to the doctor, and being told that it’s just a sprain and it’ll heal on its own eventually. This can feel a little frustrating because you want “something to be done.” That shouldn’t dissuade you from seeing your doctor in the future, because it can be difficult to judge pain yourself. Some of us deal with pain better than others. However, if you plan to just “tough it out” you could be toughing it out on a fracture that won’t heal properly without your doctor’s help.

So, if you find yourself feeling ankle pain or shoulder pain and you’re not sure if you’re looking at a sprain, fracture, or just some stiffness, you need to speak to a medical professional to be sure. But, all this terminology can get confusing and it’s important to know the difference between all of these conditions so you can best prepare yourself for recovery. Again, only a doctor’s evaluation and imaging testing can accurately diagnose your injury.

Here is what you should know about the difference between the most common kinds of injuries we all experience at one time or another.

Is it a sprain?

To give a shorthand answer of whether your injury is a sprain or fracture, sprains occur in ligaments and are usually joint related. A fracture deals with damage done to the bone. That’s a neat definition, certainly, but how does that help in the moment when you’re dealing with swelling and pain? To give an example, there is often confusion and uncertainty around ankle injuries because fractures and sprains can both occur there.

Imaging testing can give you the diagnosis you need. The two different injuries can present in similar ways like swelling or finding it difficult to walk. When dealing with sprains, the only real solution is time. Sprains need to be allowed to heal naturally. Rest, ice, and elevation are what you need. Rarely, a sprain is so severe that it requires surgery. If a sprain is that severe, you’ll feel it and you probably heard an audible pop during the injury.

Fracture care

Fractures are a bit more complicated because they do regard bones. These can’t be seen by the naked eye, unless it’s a full break where the bone is protruding or visibly askew. To stay with the ankle example, there are some notable differences between a broken ankle and a sprained one. Yes, sprains can bring swelling and you can have difficulty walking. Broken ankles bring the same, but you may visually be able to tell the difference. Your foot positioning could look off. Additionally, sprains don’t generally keep you from putting weight on the foot. Sprains are aggravated by motion, yes, but generally the ability to support your body weight isn’t affected. If you can’t stand, it could be a fracture. Also, the pain that comes from breaks tend to be more constant. Sprains respond to treatment like ice or elevation whereas breaks don’t have that kind of relief.

Fractures vary depending on the body part. Some slight fractures have to heal on their own, but generally a bone has to be reset and placed in a cast so it can heal.

Is there a difference between fractures and broken bones?

A fracture by definition is a broken bone, so no, there is no difference. However, many people use the word “fracture” to mean a hairline fracture in a bone. While some may say fracture to mean a slight crack while a break is a full separation of the bone, these are just common usage rather than official definition. It is true, however, that the healing of a hairline fracture could look quite different from recovery from a fully broken bone.


If you’ve suffered an injury and your pain isn’t going away or is intense and acute, you need to see a medical professional to get it evaluated. An examination and imaging testing can give you a proper diagnosis so you can begin the process of recovering. Injuries can be tricky and become even trickier as you get older. That’s why it’s so important to get the very best care and to get it early. Contact us today to schedule an appointment. Dr. Nickson and the team at Next Step Orthopedics are here to get you started on the road to recovery.

Call us at (972) 547-0047 or book an appointment online.

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