A Sprain vs. Break: How to Tell the Difference


Sprains, strains, and broken bones are all painful injuries that can happen to anyone. But how can you tell which one you’re suffering from following an accident, sports injury, or overuse pain?

Since the course of treatment will vary depending on what’s happening with your body, it’s important to understand the difference between a sprain vs. break and know when to seek medical care for what you’re experiencing.

What Is a Sprain?

A sprain is an injury to the ligaments, whether those ligaments are torn or stretched. Sprains differ from strains, which are an injury to the muscle or tendons. Neither is worse than the other, and both can cause quite a bit of pain.

So how can you tell whether your injury is a sprain or a broken bone?

Runner with an ankle bone injury

Sprain vs. Break: Which Is Which?

A fracture, or broken bone, isn’t always as obvious as you may think. You may assume you’ve suffered a sprain because you’re still able to put some weight on the limb. But depending on the severity of the break, a broken limb may still be able to bear weight. It’ll just hurt quite a bit.

There are a few differences to look for when determining whether you’ve suffered a sprain vs. break.

It could be a sprain if:

  • You feel pain around the affected region, and that pain is limited to soft areas, like the tissue around your ankle.
  • You’re starting to see some swelling around the sprain.
  • You see some bruising around the affected area.
  • You’re able to move the affected limb and still walk on a sprain, but in a limited capacity and with some pain.

swollen and bruised foot after an injury

It could be a break if:

  • You heard a crack at the time of the break. Most sprains happen silently or with a pop sound if they’re severe.
  • You can hear a crunching sound when you press down on the affected area. This is called crepitus.
  • You begin to see large, deep bruises forming and discoloration at the affected area.
  • You feel numbness or tingling and pain when pressure or movement is applied to the break.


It’s definitely a break if:

  • You’re not able to move the affected limb.
  • There is a visible deformity in the limb.
  • You can see the broken bone through the skin.

Doctor showing a child an x-ray of his fractured bone

Treatments for Sprains & Breaks

The RICE method, rest, ice, compression, elevation, is a common treatment immediately following a potential sprain. Over-the-counter pain medications can help relieve immediate pain symptoms and reduce swelling. It is important to note that while this method is useful with mild sprains, a sprain can become a fracture without the appropriate care, so it’s essential to follow up with a doctor regardless.

RICE method steps

The ankle is the most common part of the body affected by sprains. Sprained ankle treatments will depend on the severity of the injury but can often include some physical therapy to regain complete control over the injured ligament. Most sprains are treatable without surgery, although urgent care for a sprain may be considered in cases of ligaments that have been torn completely.

If you’ve suffered a fracture, the first course of action will be immobilization of the affected area. Depending on the broken bone and the severity of the break, your doctor will place you in a splint or a cast for stabilization.

ankle injury treatments

How long does it take a broken bone to heal?

The general rule of thumb is that most fractures will heal within 6-8 weeks from the time of the injury. However, that time can vary depending on the severity of the fracture, the type of bone broken, and your overall health.

In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to allow for proper healing.

Doctor examining a cast after a broken ankle

When to See a Doctor for a Sprain or Break

If you believe you have a sprain, you should still follow up with a doctor after taking steps to alleviate your pain. A doctor will be able to make sure that you don’t need to immobilize the area and recommend the best course of treatment for you to prevent long-term damage.

If you believe you’ve suffered a fracture, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.

An urgent care doctor for a broken bone in Los Angeles will be able to handle many types of fractures, with X-rays and splints available to diagnose and treat your injury. If your pain is severe, you’ve broken a large bone or suffered a skull fracture or bone break anywhere near your eyes; an emergency room is more appropriate.

If you’re just unable to tell whether what you’ve experienced is a sprain or break, book your appointment online to talk to the health experts at Reliant, whether that means virtually or with an in-person visit. We can offer advice on the next steps, including providing you with imaging that will rule out a fracture in the office and recommend a treatment plan that will get you back on your feet.

Recovering from a Sprained Ankle with Physical Therapy

Have you had the unfortunate experience of rolling your ankle or twisting it in a way that caused pain, swelling, and discomfort for weeks? If so, you probably sprained your ankle. Ankle sprains happen from the most common causes, such as sports, just stepping wrong, and having your ankle roll. Experiencing a sprained ankle is not any fun, and without the right treatment can cause significant damage in the long-term. If you are currently recovering from a sprained ankle, physical therapy is the best treatment option.

What Is Physical Therapy?

If you are not familiar with this type of treatment, physical therapy refers to treatment assisted with a therapist that focuses on the injured area’s movement. Physical therapy is meant to help you restore your previous use of the area while allowing it to heal properly. This treatment can last for several weeks, depending on the extent of the injury.

When you start physical therapy, you will meet with your therapist several times a week in appointments and spend the meeting’s duration putting your sprained ankle through therapy. There will be exercises and icing on your ankle at the end to reduce any swelling.

Benefits of Choosing Physical Therapysprained ankle

When you have a sprained ankle, you can choose several treatment options or choose just to let your ankle heal on its own. Unfortunately, that is not the best course of action, and there could be more damage done to your ankle later on. The best option for recovering from a sprained ankle is physical therapy for the following benefits.

Faster Recovery

When you choose physical therapy, your sprained ankle will heal faster than it will with no treatment at home. In physical therapy, you are focusing on the strength and range of motion so that you keep your ankle loose and in recovery. When you don’t engage in physical therapy, your healing could be longer because you are not working your ankle and helping it regain its normal range of motion. In most cases, an untreated sprained ankle could take up to 8 weeks to heal completely. With physical therapy, your ankle could be healed a few weeks earlier due to the treatments.

Regain Full Use of Your Ankle

With physical therapy, you can regain full use of your ankle so that you can get back to the activities that you enjoy. The exercises you learn and use in physical therapy can be carried with you even after treatment. These exercises will keep your ankle strong when you are playing sports, walking, talking, or just staying active normally.

Prevent Future Ankle Sprains

Sometimes the treatment of physical therapy on your ankle is enough to make it stronger than it was at the time of the sprain. With physical therapy exercises, you are given the tools you need to strengthen your ankles beyond their previous state. Since ankle sprains are common, the chances of you experiencing a future sprained ankle can increase.

When Should I Start Physical Therapy?

If you have a sprained ankle, you will want to get started on your physical therapy after the first week of recovery. Once you know you have a sprained ankle, it is best to go ahead and schedule therapy sessions so that you can get back on your feet as soon as you can. Sprained ankles have the ability to cause lifelong issues in your ankles, especially if your ankles are weak.

What To Expect During Physical Therapy

Once you begin physical therapy for your sprained ankle, you can expect some exercises and movements during your sessions. The goal of these movements is to help your ankle with strength and healing. There are different exercises that your therapist will do that focus on different areas of your ankle and generate the best improvement.

  • Strengthening Exercises
  • Stretching Exercises
  • Range-of-Motion Exercises

With a combination of these different exercises, you can expect your sprained ankle to heal faster and improve its overall strength. These exercises can be used for athletes or those who are physically active even after your therapy treatments are over.

Strengthening Exercises

One of your exercises’ most important goals is to strengthen your joints and build up your ankle so spraining it in the future is not as easy. These exercises include adding weight to your ankle and doing reps to help increase its strength over the course of the treatment. The ankle eversion exercise is the most common strength exercise for your ankles.

Stretching Exercisesphysical therapy for sprained ankle

When you stretch out your sprained ankle, you initiate healing with stretching exercises and keep the areas around your ankle strong. Flexing your ankle and stretching your calf muscles give your ankle the support it needs for healing and proper healing. These exercises do not start right away in physical therapy unless you can do them without pain. You can use a towel to help stretch these muscles in your lower legs, or your therapist could have you stand on your ankle and stretch your leg up behind you in repetitions to stretch these muscles.

Range-Of-Motion Exercises

These are the most common exercises that you do in physical therapy. They begin immediately in your therapy sessions, encouraging you to use your ankle and keep it moving. The most common exercises include using your injured foot and ankle to write out words so that the ankle is working. These exercises are also encouraged at home throughout the day so that you keep your ankle from getting stiff and extending the healing process.

Are You Experiencing A Sprained Ankle?

If you are prone to spraining your ankle or are currently experiencing discomfort, you should have your ankle checked for an official diagnosis. At Reliant Urgent Care, we are happy to assist you with your emergency needs and get you scheduled for physical therapy in the event of a sprain.

We can be contacted here for more information or visit one of our five California locations near you. We look forward to getting you the medical care that you need for your best health and recovery.

Physical Therapy for Healing a Herniated Disc

Back pain is an incredibly common condition that most adults will experience at some point. If the pain becomes chronic and severe enough to get in the way of normal activities, you may be suffering from a herniated disc.  Spinal discs are sturdy, gel-like structures that play an essential role in cushioning the bones away from each other. They allow your spine the flexibility to bend, twist, carry a heavy load, and generally enjoy a healthy range of motion. When one of these discs develops a tear, it becomes possible for the fluid inside to leak out. This is called a hernia and it can lead to intense pain that centralizes on the lower back. You might also experience muscle spasms, leg pain, neck pain, and weakness in your arms or legs.

The symptoms of having a herniated disc can be disruptive and even potentially debilitating. The good news is that physical therapy has an excellent track record of helping patients manage or even reverse this condition. Physical therapy is designed to be a holistic solution that addresses any underlying issues that led to the herniated disc in the first place. Taking sensible steps towards a stronger and healthier spine makes it possible to not only fix the problem but also prevent it from happening again.

The Causes of a Herniated Discherniated disc

Spinal discs consist of an outer layer of cartilage that surrounds a thick gel. Each disc functions as a protective pad for the surrounding bones, which is why they’re often described as the shock absorbers of the spine. As the spinal discs become weaker because of wear and tear, they become susceptible to rupturing. Once the gel filling leaks out, it can begin affecting any structures in the spine that happen to be nearby. Spinal nerves are incredibly sensitive, and the added pressure being placed by this leaked substance can lead to a wide range of painful and uncomfortable symptoms.

It’s possible for a herniated disk to happen because of sudden trauma, like a fall. But it’s more common that the problem develops over time because of long-term risk factors like poor posture, obesity, participation in impact sports, repetitive twisting movements at work, or a sedentary lifestyle that leads to weak muscles.

Physical Therapy As An Alternative To Surgery

Most cases of a herniated disc are not severe enough to require surgery. Physical therapists are skilled medical professionals that offer a non-invasive treatment option with phenomenal success rates for relieving the symptoms of a herniated disc. Physical therapy is considered “the first line of defense” for a herniated disc, while surgery is the last resort.

Physical therapy for herniated disc patients consists of a customized treatment program of targeted exercises that relieve pain, strengthen the supportive muscles of the spine, and help the damaged disc heal. The tools of your physical therapist may also include Electric Muscle Stimulation (EMS) for pain relief, custom orthotics that help you walk properly, or manual treatments like massages and spinal manipulation. Every case is different and will require a unique approach, but the goal is to help herniated disc patients reduce pain, regain a normal range of motion and get back to normal life as quickly as possible.

Working With A Physical Therapist

During your first meeting, the physical therapist will review your medical history and conduct a comprehensive examination. Testing your mobility and range of motion will provide broad insights about the nature of your specific injury and how to get you on the road to recovery with a specific treatment plan. The immediate goal of the plan will be to decrease your pain symptoms.physical therapy for herniated disc

If your posture is one of the underlying issues that contributed to a herniated disc, improving your posture will become an essential element of the treatment. Physical therapists place a lot of emphasis on proper body mechanics, which refers to how you sit, move, walk, or perform different tasks. Some common risk factors for a herniated disc include daily activities that place too much pressure on the spine, like slouching in your chair, lifting heavy objects incorrectly, or repetitive bending motions. The therapist will go over how to keep your spine safe during routine activities at work or as you go about your day. Learning the correct, safe ways to move the body is incredibly empowering for patients. These simple physical therapy techniques truly make a world of difference for your spine! Putting them into practice is a very effective way to reduce pain and begin healing from the herniated disc.

The comprehensive treatment plan will also include specific exercises designed to help your spine become stable and properly aligned. Having a healthy spine includes strong muscles and a good range of motion in your shoulders, abdomen, back, and hips. Your body is an interconnected system, which means it’s all designed to function together. The physical therapist will teach you beneficial exercises to stretch and strengthen many of the muscles that support the spine. This provides great pain relief because it reduces the strain on your spine and provides long-term protection from future disc damage.

Benefits of Physical Therapy

While there is no magic pill that can fix a herniated disc, physical therapy offers excellent results. This holistic, non-invasive program offers patients an effective alternative to undergoing surgery or relying on opioids for pain relief. Following the prescribed treatment plan will allow you to speed up the recovery process and return to normal life, often with as little as 2-8 weeks of physical therapy. Further, the body mechanic techniques you learn as part of your treatment are designed to become lifelong habits. You can also continue performing the beneficial pain-reduction and strengthening exercise on your own at home. Your physical therapist will provide you with great tools for not only healing from the herniated disc but being able to maintain a healthy spine for years to come.

Living with chronic back pain can be incredibly difficult, especially if it stops you from doing regular activities. Contact us to learn more about how physical therapy can help you heal from a herniated disc with a customized treatment plan.

What Is Dry Needling in Physical Therapy?

Patients recovering from sports or work-related injuries need high-quality physical therapy. Each individual case requires a unique approach to achieve the best results.

When designing a personalized physical therapy course, you doctor may suggest dry needling. This minimally invasive treatment can ease muscle pain and help you take a big step toward recovery.

Let’s take a closer look at what dry needling is and how it works.

What is Dry Needling?

Dry needling is a modern pain relief and movement restoration technique designed by western practitioners. It involves inserting “dry” needles (i.e. needles without any medication on them) into certain muscle areas called trigger points.

Trigger points are tight bands in a muscle fiber that affect its function, thus restricting the range of motion and causing local pain.

The goal of dry needling is to alleviate pain, inactivate trigger points, and restore muscle function. In most cases, it’s not a standalone method. Your doctor is likely to recommend it as an addition to other physical therapy procedures.reliant dry needling

Dry needling practitioners use this technique to treat a number of musculoskeletal issues, including back, neck, and shoulder pain.

While more research needs to be done to explore the long-term positive effects of dry needling therapy, many patients report positive effects after adding this technique to their rehabilitation plan.

How Does Dry Needling Work?

A practitioner inserts a sterilized small solid filament needle into your skin to create small and precise injuries to the tissue. The tiny injuries send a signal to your brain to repair the damage by generating new and healthy cells. When the needle touches a painful trigger point, the muscle can respond with a twitch,  followed by relaxation.

As the therapist applies the needle to the trigger point, it decreases tightness, improves blood flow, and stimulates muscle relaxation, relieving pain and restoring lost movement to the limbs.

No-Trigger Dry Needling

While the majority of these procedures involves inserting needles into trigger points, some employ a no-trigger approach. No-trigger point treatment targets a larger area. The practitioner inserts needles around the pain points instead of directly into them.

Training and Certification

A certified therapist must perform dry needling. Even though in the United States, training and licensing for this procedure isn’t controlled by any regulatory agency, experience and knowledge are the keys to the therapy’s success.

How Long Does Dry Needling Last?

A typical dry needling session takes about 20 to 30 minutes. The duration may vary depending on how many trigger points need to be covered. It may take several sessions to achieve top results.

Who is a Good Candidate for Dry Needling?

The majority of patients recovering from sports and work-related injuries are good candidates for dry needling. You may want to avoid the therapy if:

  • You have needle phobia
  • You have a history of abnormal reactions to injections
  • You have lymphedema, blood-clotting issues, and immunodeficiency.

Children under 12 years of age and women in the first trimester of pregnancy should be careful about dry needling.

It’s imperative to consult your therapist about your candidacy. Each patient needs a personalized approach to recovery planning.

How Painful Is Dry Needling?

Since needles are fine and soft, you aren’t likely to feel anything when a doctor inserts them. You will feel the muscles contract (for less than a second) as a response to the needle’s touch. The sensation is likely to be similar to getting a cramp.

During the procedure, you are likely to experience relaxation and pain relief. After dry needling, you could feel muscle pain for about 24 to 48 hours. The pain will be similar to what you might deal with after a hard gym workout.

You may notice slight bruising after the procedure, which should go away in a couple of days. After the treatment is over, you might feel overly fatigued or extremely energized for about an hour.

What are the Risks of Dry Needling?

If you are a good candidate for dry needling, you are likely to avoid the related risks. The procedure may come with minor side effects, including:

  • Dizziness
  • Minor bleeding
  • Bruising
  • Temporary pain

A serious side effect of dry needling is pneumothorax (collapsed lung). It occurs in less than 0.01% of patients. The condition develops over time so it’s important to pay close attention to your health for a few days after the procedure to prevent serious consequences.

What Should I Expect After the Dry Needling Treatment?

You may not feel any significant difference after the first session. However, you could start experiencing some pain relief and a better range of motion almost immediately. You may feel a little sore after each session, but the feeling should go away in several hours.

You should avoid strenuous physical activity after the procedure. However, stretching and normal workouts aren’t prohibited.

What is the Difference between Acupuncture and Dry Needling?

While both procedures involve needles, dry needling and acupuncture are different. Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine that uses needles to direct energy and affect the nervous system.

Meanwhile, dry needling is a modern technique that focuses on releasing muscle tension and healthy tissue regeneration. This newer practice follows evidence-based guidelines.reliant dry needle

Does My Insurance Cover Dry Needling?

The majority of insurance providers, including Medicare, don’t cover dry needling since it’s considered investigational.

CPT codes for dry needling were finally added in January 2020. Unfortunately, right now, these codes have a non-covered status. For more details, you need to check with your insurance company.

Is Dry Needling Right for Me?

Dry needling can be a suitable solution for patients struggling with muscle pain. Only a certified practitioner can make a decision about recommending this therapy based on the medical history and individual characteristics of each patient.

If you think you are a candidate for dry needling but your doctor doesn’t offer it, consider asking. Since the technique is rather new, not all therapists are fully aware of its benefits.

Dry needling is usually part of a larger treatment and recovery plan. If you’d like to learn more about modern physical therapy options, please contact us at any convenient time.