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Difference between fractures, strains and sprains

A young woman on a hike sits on the ground and holds her ankle in pain. Her brown hair is in a high pony tail and she's wearing an orange tank top, black leggings and sneakers. She's outside with grass and trees behind her.

Sprains, strains, and fractures are all injuries that occur to our musculoskeletal system. They can be caused by a fall, accident, sports-related injury or, in some cases, just moving incorrectly.

Strains

A strain is a twisting, stretching, or pulling of a muscle or its attachment. It can be acute (caused by traumatic stretching or pulling of the muscle/tendon) or chronic (the result of overuse through prolonged, repetitive movement). 

Symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Muscle weakness/stiffness
  • Swelling/bruising
  • Cramping
  • Decreased motion or difficulty with activities of daily living

There are many different treatment options that are used to treat strains. This may include “rest, ice, compression, elevation” (RICE); medications; physical therapy or, in some cases, surgery. Speaking to a physician and getting the appropriate diagnosis and treatment is important to healing properly. 

Sprains

A sprain is a stretching of a ligament (the tissue that connects bone to bone).  Sprains are very common and can occur wherever there is a connection between two bones. A mild sprain stretches the ligament but leaves the joint stable. A moderate sprain is a partially torn ligament that can, in some instances, destabilize a joint. In a severe sprain, ligaments could tear almost completely, which may require surgery to repair. 

Sprain symptoms include

  • Pain
  • Bruising
  • Limited movement
  • Muscle spasm
  • Muscle weakness
  • Swelling
  • Cramping
  • Feelings of instability or “giving out”
  • Difficulty with walking, moving or using an injured area

Fractures

A fracture is a break to a bone in our body. There are many different types of fractures and no two fractures are identical.

Signs and symptoms of fractures include:

  • Pain 
  • Swelling 
  • Bruising 
  • Limited or painful motion
  • Deformity

If you suspect that you may have a fracture, you should seek immediate medical consultation. Some fractures can cause damage to surrounding muscles, tendons, and—in rare cases—arteries and veins, which supply blood flow to parts of our body. 

Prevention

It’s impossible to predict injuries, but there are steps you can take to lessen their effects or keep them from happening in the first place:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get in shape and build muscle strength.
  • Do daily stretching exercises.
  • Wear the right shoes and appropriate equipment for specific activities and sports.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet that contains calcium and vitamin D.
  • Warm up before any sports activity.
  • Keep household areas safe to prevent falls.
  • Don’t exercise or play sports if overly tired or in pain.
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