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Sprains vs. Breaks: How to Tell the Difference

Sprains vs. Breaks: How to Tell the Difference Can

The ankle is the most commonly sprained joint — and if you’ve ever injured yours, you know how severe the pain can be. It’s easy for your mind to come to the worst possible conclusions, so it’s good to know the difference between sprains and breaks.


According to the Mayo Clinic, a sprain is a stretch and/or tear of a ligament, the tissue connecting two bones. Sprains are caused by an injury that stresses a joint and overstretches or even ruptures supporting ligaments. This can happen from a fall, twist, or blow to the body. If you have pain around the soft tissue areas but not over the bone, you probably have a sprain, not a break. The University of Rochester Medical Center website identifies three different types of sprains:

  • Mild sprain – A ligament is stretched, but the joint remains stable and isn’t loosened.
  • Moderate sprain – The ligament partially tears, causing the joint to be unstable.
  • Severe sprain – Ligaments tear completely or separate from the bone. This loosening affects how the joint functions. You may feel a tear or pop in the joint.

Treating a Sprain

All sprains usually cause pain, swelling, bruising, and inflammation. According to Emory Healthcare, if you’ve hurt your ankle but you’re not sure how seriously, a general rule of thumb is to watch it for two to four days and use the RICE method:

  • Rest – Stop or take a break from any activity that may cause additional pain or soreness to the injured area.
  • Ice – The cold will reduce pain and swelling.
  • Compression – Wrap the injured or sore area with an elastic bandage. The correct amount of pressure will lessen the swelling.
  • Elevate – Raise the injured or sore area anytime you are sitting or lying down. Try to keep the area at or above the level of your heart to minimize swelling.

If after a few days you have significant pain, difficulty putting weight on your foot, or black and blue marks or blisters, it’s time to see a medical professional.


If you injure a joint, feel pain over the bone, and can’t move it without severe pain, it’s most likely a break. Unlike sprains, bone breaks should always be diagnosed by a doctor to ensure proper treatment. If the pain continues or if the bone appears to be deformed, call your doctor. Seek urgent medical care if you have numbness, weakness, or poor circulation in the injured limb.


There are several things you can do to prevent excessive strains or bone breaks:

  • Build muscle strength through physical activity.
  • Stretch thoroughly before taking part in any type of exercise.
  • For ankle sprains/breaks, wear shoes that fit properly.
  • Nourish your muscles with a healthy, balanced diet.

Sprains can be very painful, but with these tips for prevention and the RICE method, you’ll be back to normal in no time. If you have a break, the healthcare professionals at Patient Plus are ready to help!

Patient Plus Urgent Care – Get in, Get better.

When you’re sick or injured, whether routine or urgent, quality medical care should be easy to find and available when you need it. That’s the idea behind Patient Plus Urgent Care, with convenient locations in Baton Rouge, Hammond, Prairieville, & Brusly.

Patient Plus treats most common illnesses and injuries — the sniffles, rashes, fevers, aches, breaks, and other conditions that deserve prompt treatment but aren’t serious enough to require a trip to the nearest emergency room. The clinics provide complete diagnostic services, including X-rays, EKGs, and flu and strep tests. Other services include physicals, vaccinations, and more. Patient Plus clinics are open every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and patients never need to call first or make an appointment.