fractures, sprains and strains Hampton Roads OrthopedistsFor the average person, medical jargon sounds like a foreign language. Yet, for athletes, or anyone starting a new activity or exercise routine, becoming familiar with a few simple medical terms may help determine the severity of an injury. Today we will cover the differences between fractures, strains and sprains.


What is a fracture?

The term “fracture” is thrown about, yet rarely used in an appropriate instance. A fracture is any loss of continuity of bone. Anytime the bone loses integrity, whether it’s a hairline crack barely recognizable on an x-ray, or the shattering of bone into a dozen pieces, it’s considered a fracture.” In layman terms, a fracture is actually a break.

Generally, a fracture is caused by a high stress impact incident, such as a fall. Fractures may also be a symptom of weak bones. Weak bones are caused by serious conditions such as cancers, osteoporosis, or osteogenesis.

How To Identify A Fracture

The only way to truly and accurately diagnose a fracture is with an x-ray, bone scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Depending on your history, some doctors can make estimates based on a physical exam and what activity you were performing at the time of injury.

Unfortunately, the injury must set before it can be visible on an x-ray or bone scan. Generally, the doctor will provide a preliminary diagnosis and ask the patient to return at a later date, one week or more, for imaging to confirm. If the injury seems severe, a physician may require you to have an MRI.

Strain or Sprain

While a fracture is easily defined due to the simplicity of its definition, sprains and strains fall into a grayer area. They share similar symptoms, but can be mixed up for one another. One of the best ways to identify a strain versus a sprain is by the affected body part.

Cut & Dry on Sprains

What is a Sprain?

Sprains are specific to ligaments, specifically the stretching or tearing of the tissue.

To begin, it’s important to understand the make and location of a ligament. Per MedlinePlus, “a ligament is a fibrous connective tissue which attaches bone to bone, and usually serves to hold structures together and keep them stable.” Ligaments are found throughout the body at every bony joint. They are also found in rare instances attached to non-bony tissues such as organs. Most sprains are found in the ankle, yet can happen at any bony joint that is over-stretched or torn.

How To Identify A Sprain

While the most accurate diagnosis is through a physician, there are telling factors that help identify if you have sustained a sprain.

First, identify exactly what you were doing when you injured the body part. Usually, if it’s a joint such as an ankle or wrist, twisting will cause a sprain. Immediate swelling around the injured area in conjunction with moderate pain is also a telltale sign of a sprain.

Cut & Dry on Strains

Strains are specific to the tearing or stretching of muscles or tendons.  It’s important to become familiar with the body parts involved.

A tendon “is a fibrous connective tissue which attaches muscle to bone. Tendons may also attach muscles to structures such as the eyeball.” In short, the tendons job is to move the bone or structure.

Muscle is an extremely widely used term that most people identify with strength, tone, and fitness. Yet, muscles are also misunderstood. Instead of thinking of your muscle as singular part of the body, a better way is to recognize that the entire body is part of a muscular system.

Per the Inner Body, “attached to the bones of the skeletal system are about 700 named muscles that make up roughly half of a person’s body weight. Each of these muscles is a discrete organ constructed of skeletal muscle tissue, blood vessels, tendons, and nerves. Muscle tissue is also found inside of the heart, digestive organs, and blood vessels. In these organs, muscles serve to move substances throughout the body.”

Some of the most common strains occur in the lower back and hamstring areas.

How To Identify A Strain

Most strains are identifiable by the initial pain. Generally, you will experience a sudden sharp and intense pain at the location of the strain. If the pain is accompanied by an action such as stretching, running, sprinting, or lunging, then you may have strained a muscle or tendon. Strains may also be accompanied by a swelling and slight bruising.

Severity ranges from Grade 1 (non-severe and generally affecting tendons) through Grade 3 (severe and usually affecting the integrity of the muscle).  Depending on the severity of the strain, the affected area may feel tight for a short period of time or could require pain medication and physical therapy to fully heal.

Established by Dr. Wieman Kretz in the 1960’s, Hampton Roads Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine provides quality orthopaedic services and care for the east coast area of Hampton Roads. With a highly trained staff, HR Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine prides itself on investment in the newest and most innovative knowledge for the best health care possible. For more information or to speak with a representative directly, feel free to contact us.