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"Is there a way to tell the difference between a break and a sprain?"

ZocdocAnswersIs there a way to tell the difference between a break and a sprain?


Playing volleyball in a league and last week I think I sprained my ankle. I?ve sprained it before and it feels the same. Afraid I could have broken it this time though. Is there a way to tell the difference between a break and a sprain without an x-ray?


A physical exam is helpful but it is difficult to tell any bone fractures (other than those with obvious deformities) without appropriate imaging. If you can't bear any weight on your ankle after the injury, then a fracture is a possibility. Many athletes sprain their ankles, and it can take a few days to weeks to heal, but a fracture would not allow you to bear weight for at least 6 weeks, or even longer if you do not keep it immobilized. Ruling out a bone fracture is important as the treatment for it is very different from soft tissue trauma. Bones heal slowly and methodically with cell layering down a foundation like miniature bridges. This does not work well unless the two broken ends are kept relatively fixed. Otherwise, even slight movements will cause constant micro-traumas, thus preventing optimal healing. On the other hand, a sprain can often heal with rest and ice and by keeping the affected area elevated whenever possible. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are often helpful in decreasing the amount of swelling and inflammation inherent to every injury. Minimizing the swelling and inflammation will lessen secondary injuries and allow the tissues to get nutrients easier for healing. Other things that can help you heal faster include avoiding tobacco smoke, getting good nutrition, and adequate rest. I would recommend a visit with a sports medicine specialist for an evaluation and more information.

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