What’s the Difference between a Strain, a Sprain, and a Fracture?

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You jumped high and came down hard, but you got the interception. Unfortunately, you also got a very sore and swollen ankle. Now you’re left wondering if you’ve got a strain, a sprain, or fracture.

In both a sprain and a strain, something has been either stretched or partially or completely torn. The difference between the two lies in which body part has actually been injured.

In the case of a sprain, you’ve stretched or torn a ligament. Ligaments are fibrous tissues that connect your bones to your joints. Sprains often occur in ankles or wrists.

If you’ve got a strain, you’ve stretched or torn a muscle or a tendon. Tendons are tissues that connect your muscles to your bone. The hamstrings (back of thighs) and the lower back are common strain sites.

Pain and swelling are common signs of both sprains and strains. However, a sprain can bring bruising with it. Whereas, if you’re suffering from a strain, you might experience muscle spasms. In both cases, you should be able to move the affected joint or muscle, but your mobility will be limited. Usually, the more severe the stretch or tear, the greater your pain and the more restricted your movement.

Not all sprains and strains heal on their own. Some require surgery to repair. See a doctor if you notice redness or numbness in the area, can’t move the joint, or have significant pain.

Unlike a sprain or strain, a fracture is a broken or cracked bone. Although you’ll be in pain with all three, the symptoms of a fracture are unique and can vary greatly depending on which bone is broken (say a rib as compared to your foot). Generally, however, breaks bring a few tell-tale signs.

  • Bone is sticking through the skin

  • Breathing is difficult and painful (if you’ve fractured a rib)

  • Inability to move the injured part of your body or bear any weight on it

  • Misshapen look to the affected area

  • Numbness or blue color in the fingers or toes (if you’ve broken an arm or leg)

    Broken bones are serious business and should always be treated by a doctor. Don’t attempt to set or split a broken bone yourself. Go straight to your doctor’s office or the nearest emergency room.

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