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How to tell the difference between sprains, strains and fractures

When you twist your ankle, it is fairly easy to recognize the pain but it usually takes a trip to the doctor to find out if it is a sprain, strain or fracture. Understanding the difference between these injuries can help you avoid them in the future. All three are injuries to the body’s musculoskeletal system but they are each unique.

The body has cords of tissue known as tendons that connect muscles to bones. When a muscle or a tendon is twisted, pulled or torn, it is called a strain. Sometimes both the muscle and the tendon are injured. A strain usually occurs when muscles and tendons are overused during prolonged, repetitive movement. The risk of injury is increased if the muscle is weak. The activity can be athletic like rowing a boat or playing golf or it can be related to a job like painting a large room with a brush.

Typical symptoms for a strain include pain, muscle spasms, a feeling of muscle weakness, swelling, inflammation and cramping. A mild strain occurs when the muscle or tendon is stretched or pulled slightly, while a severe strain involves the full or partial rupture of a muscle or tendon. When the injury is serious, movement can be limited. Healing can take several months. One of the most common strains is a back strain where the muscles supporting the spine are twisted or torn, usually by jumping or twisting. Another common strain involves the hamstring muscle that is in the back of the thigh. If this muscle is pulled or torn, it may take several months to heal.

Ligaments are the name used to identify the tissue that connects two bones in a joint. The role of the ligament is to stabilize and support the joints in the body. If a joint is stressed, these ligaments can become stretched or even torn. This usually happens during a fall, a twisting motion or a strong blow to the joint. When a sprain is mild, the ligaments are stretched but remain connected and continue to keep the bones stable. A moderate sprain occurs when the ligament is partially torn and the joint becomes unstable. If the ligaments tear completely or separate from the bone, it is a severe sprain and the joint will not operate properly. Sometimes a pop is felt in the joint with a severe sprain. The symptoms of a sprain include pain, swelling, bruising and inflammation. The joint that is sprained most frequently is the ankle. After the first sprain, the ankle is more susceptible to future sprains. Healing times increase with the severity of the sprain.

Breaks and fractures
Anytime the normal structure of a bone is damaged, it is called a break or a fracture. The two terms mean the same thing. A break can be a small crack in the bone, a chip out of the bone or a complete disconnection between two pieces of bone. In all of these situations, the integrity of the bone is compromised and needs the attention of a physician for proper treatment. Weak or brittle bones are more prone to breaking. If you experience numbness, weakness or poor circulation in the area of the broken bone, be sure to see a doctor quickly.

Mild sprains and strains can be addressed at home with rest, ice compression and elevation, a combination often referred to as RICE. Resting the injured area can help healing begin. Applying ice for 15 to 20 minutes three to four times a day reduces the inflammation, which helps with healing. Wrapping the injured area with a pressure bandage can prevent or at least reduce the swelling. Be sure not to wrap the bandage so tight that blood circulation is affected. Elevating the injured area above the level of the heart will reduce swelling and bruising. If these measures are not working, see a doctor. If you suspect a bone is broken, see a doctor for a proper course of treatment.

Recovery challenges
When the musculoskeltal system is compromised, movement can be painful, difficult or limited. In some cases, like a broken hip, there needs to be targeted therapy to restore the movement and range of motion to the damaged area. Knowing exactly how much or how little movement can take place is one of the roles of a physical therapist. For the best recovery after severe injuries and breaks, a stay in a short-term care facility where there are therapists on staff is beneficial.

Glenview Terrace delivers outstanding services and clinical outcomes, which makes it one of the top choices on the North Shore for short-term care. Glenview Terrace has received Medicare’s highest five-star quality rating for its history of excellent care.

While recovering at Glenview Terrace, each guest receives personalized care from a caring staff to fit their needs. You can be assured that medications are delivered in a timely manner. One-on-one physical, occupational and speech therapies are offered seven times a week. All guests have access to state-of-the-art equipment in Glenview Terrace’s gyms. Compassionate staff offer the encouragement and positive reinforcement needed to move you toward your goals. Using expert care and sophisticated techniques, Glenview Terrace offers an aggressive blend of traditional and advanced rehabilitation services to get you quickly back on your feet.

Glenview Terrace delivers this comprehensive care in an elegant setting that begins with beautifully landscaped grounds and continues into the spacious, well-appointed rooms. Guests can enjoy nutritious meals served in elegant dining areas or in their rooms. Guests can also choose to relax in their rooms with an array of amenities and services to pamper them, including attentive concierge service.

Give yourself all of the support needed for a speedy recovery by choosing Glenview Terrace, where there is an entire team of professionals working toward getting you back to your active lifestyle. For additional information or to arrange a tour, visit or call 847-729-9090.TMG Glenview Terrace difference between fractures and sprains.