Sprained Foot vs Broken Foot

Breaks & Fractures

Jul 25, 2020


If you’ve recently injured your foot  — whether by playing sports, falling, or by dropping a heavy item on it — you may be tempted to tough it out. However, while the wait-and-see approach is common, it could result in complications of your injury if you’ve sprained or broken your foot. Symptoms of both injuries are similar and they both require resting to allow your body to heal. But, how can you tell whether any of these injuries applies to you? What are the symptoms of a sprained foot? What are the symptoms of a fracture? And, what’s the best way to ensure you heal properly?

What’s the difference between a sprain and a fracture?

Both a sprain and a fracture hurt — a lot. Yet, these injuries can be differentiated by the part of the foot that’s been damaged. Muscles are connected to bones by fibrous tissue called ligaments. If you’ve torn one of your ligaments (whether partially or completely), you’ve sprained your foot. On the other hand, if you’ve broken any of the bones of your foot, you’ve suffered a fracture.

Symptoms of a Sprained Foot

There are three different types of sprains. A grade I sprain means you’ve experienced small tears in the ligaments. Grade II sprains mean larger tears. A grade III sprain means the ligament is completely torn or detached from the bone. Because of these differences, symptoms will vary depending on the severity of the sprain. However, common denominators include:

  • Pain around the arch of the foot
  • Bruising, swelling, and tenderness
  • Limping and additional pain when you try to bear your body weight

Diagnosis and Treatment for a Sprained Foot

A foot sprain will be diagnosed by taking x-rays of the injured foot. This is done to confirm whether it’s a sprain or a fracture, as well as to determine the severity of the injury. Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, treatment will depend on the type of sprain. For a grade I or grade II sprain, you’ll need crutches for anywhere between two and four weeks. For a grade III sprain, you may need surgery, as well as rest and to stay off your foot for up to eight weeks — or longer, if instructed by your doctor. You’ll also need crutches to stay off the injured foot while you heal.

During the healing process, your doctor will likely recommend an over-the-counter painkiller. The RICE method can also help relieve discomfort:

  1. Rest. Avoid any physical activity that causes pain on your foot.
  2. Ice. your foot two or three times a day, for about 20 minutes each time.
  3. Compression. Wrap your foot with a bandage to help reduce swelling.
  4. Elevation. Keep the injured foot propped up on a stool or pillow whenever you sit/lay down.

Symptoms of a Broken Foot

The symptoms in a foot fracture will also vary depending on the severity of the injury. These could range from a hairline fracture to bones being misaligned and piercing the skin. Overall, the telltale signs include:

  • Possibly hearing a cracking sound when the bone breaks
  • Intense pain that worsens with physical activity
  • Swelling, bruising, and tenderness
  • Inability to bear your body weight
  • Deformity around the injured area

Diagnosis and Treatment for a Fractured Foot

Just as with sprains, your doctor will take x-rays of your foot to confirm the diagnosis and determine the extent of the injury. If the break is a stress or hairline fracture, you may need a CT scan to detect the break. The best form of treatment will depend on the severity of the fracture, and may include:

  • Pain medications
  • Manipulating the bones to align them properly
  • Wearing a cast
  • Using crutches or a wheelchair
  • Taking time off sports and other strenuous activities
  • Surgery — which is required only in the most severe cases

The recovery time will vary on the severity of the injury and whether you have any underlying health issues — such as diabetes, anemia, low vitamin D levels, or hypothyroidism. Generally, a mild to moderate fracture should heal in approximately eight weeks.

Always seek medical attention if you think your foot is broken. Failing to do so could lead to bone deformities and/or post-traumatic arthritis — and both of these conditions could result in life-long chronic pain.

24-Hour Emergency Room Services in Colorado Springs and Texas

If you or a loved one believe you may have a foot sprain or fracture, let us help you. If you have questions or need immediate treatment, your nearest Complete Care location is ready to help, no matter the time of day or night. We offer a variety of services to help you and your family in your time of need. No appointments are necessary.