Break or Sprain? Only an X-ray Can Tell for Sure

Minor injuries happen to everyone. Any normal daily activity, like walking downstairs or stepping off a curb, could lead to a potential problem. If you’re an athlete (or act like one) your risk is significantly higher.

But once you injure yourself, how do you know the extent of the damage? Is it something you can treat at home, or do you need to see a medical professional?

At UrgentMed, we can help you determine the best course of action. We specialize in acute injuries and treating them safely and effectively to get you back to living life pain-free. If you suspect you have a sprain or a break, the best thing to do is come in for an X-ray to know for sure. In either case, here’s what you can expect from breaks and sprains.

What is a sprain like?

When you stretch or tear your ligaments — the tissues that connect your bones — that’s called a sprain. You need your ligaments to keep your body stable; when they are injured, you could lose function in that joint until it has healed.

You can get a sprain from a fall, from an impact injury, or from twisting your joint the wrong way. In a mild sprain, the ligament is just overstretched, but in a more severe sprain, the ligament actually ruptures and separates from your bone.

The severity of your symptoms from a sprain depend on whether you’ve stretched or torn your ligaments, but you can expect to see the same telltale signs: swelling, bruising, and pain.

We generally treat sprains by immobilizing the area and applying the RICE treatment:

This approach helps reduce inflammation and allows your injury to heal. In serious cases, you may need physical therapy or even surgery, but most sprains respond well to the RICE treatment.

What is a bone break like?

In many cases, it may be difficult to tell the difference between a break and a sprain. Both injuries cause swelling, bruising, and pain. That’s why it’s so important to visit a health care professional like our doctors at UrgentMed to find out exactly what you’re dealing with.

We need to set a broken bone in order for it to heal properly. The RICE method definitely helps keep the swelling down, but if you have a chipped bone or offset fracture, ice and rest aren’t enough.

Depending on which bone you’ve broken, we may place the affected limb in a splint or a cast to keep the area immobile for a few weeks. This gives your bone the best possible chance of healing completely so you retain full function.

How X-rays work

When we suspect a bone fracture, we typically order an X-ray. X-rays use electromagnetic radiation, which is similar to regular light, just at a higher energy level that allows it to pass through your body. The X-ray technician places a detector plate underneath your injury, so when the X-ray passes through your body, an image of your internal structures shows up as shadows on the film.

When you have a broken bone, the X-ray reveals the fracture and clearly rules out a sprain and other injuries. The image also gives us the information we need to set the bone before casting it.

An X-ray is the only way to know for sure if you have a break or a sprain. When you sustain an injury that causes swelling, bruising, and pain, call UrgentMed immediately to get expert answers quickly and start healing soon. If you have a non-emergency situation, you can also book an appointment through our online portal.

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