Sprain or Fracture: How to Tell the Difference?
Posted: Jul 17, 2014
When you get an injury on the foot, initially it may be difficult to figure out if it is a sprain or fracture. A sprain is actually the damage of the ligaments of the foot. On the other hand, fracture happens when there is a break in any one or more of the 26 bones in the foot.
It is important to know the difference between sprains or a fracture as a totally different treatment protocol is used in both of these. If a person fails to receive proper medical intervention in time, then the patient may have to face long-term foot problems. This situation may result in limited functional abilities, especially for a sportsperson whose body is placed under heavy stress in the course of different activities.
The following signs can help you to differentiate between a sprained or a broken foot:
- Did a sound occur at the time of the accident or injury? A sound of ‘tearing’ or ‘popping’ may signal a sprain whereas a ‘cracking’ sound may indicate a fracture.
- Are you able to apply weight on the foot after the injury? If you are having excruciating pain in the affected area whenever you try to apply some weight on it later, then it is a sign of a fracture.
- After an ankle sprain, swelling is not unusual, but if it occurs with distortion of the normal shape of the foot, then it may mean that the bone has a breakage or fracture.
- A fracture is also indicated by the numbness in the affected area.
- Are you able to move the foot joints without much pain? Try to wiggle your toes and if there is no moment possible, then a fracture has occurred.
- Is there any specific area of the foot that is severely painful and very sensitive to touch? This is another indication of fracture.
How to confirm fractures?
X-rays are conducted to either to diagnose or exclude a fracture. However, there are chances that even x-ray might miss a breakage under certain circumstances. Depending on the area of the breakage, x-ray may show normal results, even when symptoms and other diagnostic methods strongly suggest a fracture.
A bone scan may provide a better and more accurate diagnosis, since x-rays may not show up breakage sometimes.
When a breakage in the bone is confirmed, then an MRI scan or CT scan can be done to figure out the extent of the damage. X-rays fail to show or diagnose any damage that may occur to the cartilage, tendons and ligaments. Therefore these scans can provide a better picture of the condition or damage in the soft tissue.
If the doctor diagnoses a fracture in the bone, then surgery or immobilization may be the next step taken by the doctor to address the injury. If any breakage in the bone has not occurred and a sprain is diagnosed, then the best treatment can be provided by a foot and ankle Physio.
You can search online to find a renowned foot and ankle physiotherapy centre in your area.
Anna Jane Physio North Sydney has more than 18 years of experiance as a physiotherapist. She has served as team physio to the Australian Freestyle Ski Team.