Differentiating a Broken Foot from a Sprained One


It might be tough to tell the difference between a sprain and a fracture after a foot injury. Foot sprains include the ligaments, while foot fractures entail any of the 26 bones of the foot being broken.

It’s vital to distinguish between a sprain and a fracture since each treatment is different. Avoiding medical attention when needed can lead to chronic foot pain and impaired function, which is especially problematic for athletes due to the added strain that playing a sport places on the body.

To tell the difference between a sprained foot and a broken one, look out for these symptoms:

Did you hear anything at the time of the accident? A “cracking” noise could be a symptom of a fracture, whereas a “popping” or “tearing” noise could indicate a sprain.
After the injury, were you able to put weight on the foot? Putting weight on the afflicted part after that while it was still in pain is a possible symptom of a fracture.
Foot swelling is joint after an ankle sprain, but swelling accompanied by a change in the foot’s natural form could indicate a fracture.
A fracture may also be indicated by numbness in the area.
Is there any range of motion in your foot’s joints before you experience pain? How about a bit of toe wiggle? A fracture may be present if there is no range of motion.
Is there a particular spot that hurts like hell if you touch it? This could be a sign of a fracture.
Methods Used to Confirm Breaks:

Standard X-rays can confirm or rule out a fracture diagnosis. In other cases, though, x-rays won’t be able to detect the break. Depending on the fracture’s location, specific X-rays may appear normal, despite different methods of evaluation and the symptoms strongly suggesting a fracture.

Bone scans are more reliable than X-rays for diagnosing fractures, which don’t always appear in conventional imaging.

Once a fracture has been identified, imaging tests like a CT scan or MRI can be performed to assess the degree of injury. In contrast to X-rays, which cannot detect soft tissue damage, such scans provide a clear image of the state of soft tissue structures, including ligaments and tendons.

Surgical intervention and immobilization may be necessary to treat a fracture. The following is helpful if a fracture has been ruled out and a sprain has been identified.

Sprains undergo a multistage healing process that begins immediately after the injury occurs:

Inflammation: The presence of blood and tissue fluid at the site of an injury. A bruise will appear if there is any superficial bleeding. The bruise could not appear until much later, and it might be lower than the damaged location. The force of gravity is to blame for this. Swelling can occur when fluid accumulates in the tissues. The inflammatory response initiates repair at the injury site during the acute response phase. It could linger for up to three days after the damage occurred. The earliest symptoms include redness, heat, swelling, discomfort, and a decrease in the area’s normal function. To speed up healing, following the RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression, elevation, and referral) is essential as soon as possible after suffering an injury.

Over the next few weeks, potentially up to six weeks, the damaged tissue undergoes a series of processes within itself known as repair, during which the initial hematoma created during the inflammatory phase is replaced with fibrous tissue. Unlike the undamaged original tissue, the new fibrous or “scar” tissue is not as well-organized and cleanly set out. A reorganization process is initiated to transition from the repair phase to the remodeling phase. A physical therapist’s help during this stage of recovery is invaluable. To hasten recovery, the therapist will use manual and movement therapies, such as massage, stretching, exercise, mobilization, and electrical modalities.

The chaotic scar tissue is transformed into ordered, parallel-arranged tissue during the remodeling phase. This phase has been completed successfully when the regenerated tissue is robust and enables full function with no chance of re-injury. Rehabilitation and proprioception are used as part of the treatment at this point. All strengthening exercises must still be performed under close supervision to prevent injury to delicate tissue.

Once a fracture has been ruled out and a sprain has been diagnosed, therapy should be initiated as soon as feasible.

Time spent healing is reduced when the damaged area can rest. Too much activity and massage so soon after an injury might cause further bleeding and delay recovery.

Apply ice to the affected area, but never directly to the skin; doing so might cause severe skin damage. A thin cloth layer can be used as a barrier when putting ice on the skin. If you have problems with blood flow to your limbs, you should avoid using ice. Never put ice on an open wound or wherever you can’t feel it. A superficial injury may require ice for 15 minutes. Applying ice for 30 minutes may be helpful for more severe damage. Applying ice to the sore spot should dull the pain. You may feel chilly at first, warm for a while, ache and hurt, and finally numb. The purpose of the ice treatment is to render you numb, so brace yourself for the experience. Use ice at least four times daily, every two hours, while awake. Between ice applications, keep applying compression and elevating the affected area.

Over the ice pack, begin applying a compression bandage from below the damaged region. The application should be used with some tightness but not so much that blood flow is restricted. If the blood flow is normal, you can test it by lightly pinching the area just below the bandage with your finger and thumb. If the application is not restricting blood flow, the skin’s color should return to normal as soon as the pressure is released. Reapply the bandage with minimal pressure if numbness or discoloration develops beneath it.

Raise the region above shoulder height. Lay down with the affected area raised, but in a posture that doesn’t pressure your neck or back.
Referral: If you need further evaluation or treatment, consult your doctor or physical therapist.

Ula has been a freelance health and wellness article writer for 17 years. She has a bachelor’s degree in science and extensive expertise in the health business. She currently resides in a town outside of Cape Town, South Africa.

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