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Foot and Ankle Injuries: Sprain or Fracture?

Did you know that one quarter, or 25%, of our bones are in our feet and ankles? Or that there are 33 joints and over one hundred tendons, ligaments and muscles in each ankle and foot?

Our feet and ankles are designed to stabilize, propel and stop our movement engaged by the lower body. Poor foot placement and imbalances, over time, can create injuries or leave you susceptible to them. Taking a hit to the ground, sudden impact or having a fall can also result in injury that could be as minor as a stubbed toe, or a very minor sprain, or as severe as a bad fracture/break.

Determining the severity and type of an injury to the ankles or feet (toes included) can be quite challenging without proper diagnosis through x-rays, especially since pain levels are not a truly reliable indicator of what's actually going on. So, how do you determine one verses the other? Of course we all want a prompt diagnosis, but if you're en route to urgent care for x-rays, you may be in for a patience-building wait, sometimes 4-6 hours depending how busy the location is. To tide you over, here are a few simple signs of these two common foot and ankle injuries:

  • Both a sprain and a fracture can result in immediate (within 15 minutes of injury) swelling and localized bruising.

  • A minor sprain will likely be tender to the touch, where a more severe sprain or fracture will result in being unable to bear full weight on the injured ankle and foot; although, dependent on a person's natural pain tolerance, this is not always the case.

  • If you recall hearing a cracking or popping sound at the time of the injury, it is likely you've landed at least a minor fracture.

  • If there is any sign of crookedness or deformation in the foot or ankle, it is likely there has been a break.

As you can see, the symptoms can be interchangeable, and again, depending on a person's natural tolerance to pain and the amount of adrenaline happening in the body, the 'touch and feel' type self-diagnosis isn't always reliable.

Immediately after injury, rest, ice, compression and elevation (R.I.C.E.) will help minimize swelling (which is the body's mechanism for repair and recovery, which is why at least some will still remain) and help prevent further damage to any tissue or bone. A simple rule of thumb for icing is 15-20 minutes on, 15-20 minutes off, for 3-6 cycles.

If you are hard-pressed to avoid seeing a doctor and having x-rays, but after a full day of rest and staying off the injury there is still swelling, bruising and pain that has not lessened or has increased, save yourself a longer recovery time and worsened injury by getting to the doctor and having x-rays.

The old adage, "better safe than sorry" is warranted advice when it comes to injury prevention and injury care.

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