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Goodness Me is your source for useful health, wellness and lifestyle information. We cover an interesting and comprehensive range of topics, tapping into the knowledge and expertise of staff and doctors at Epworth HealthCare, the leading private not-for-profit hospital group in Victoria, Australia.

Sprains, fractures and dislocations

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Sprains, fractures and dislocations

Epworth HealthCare

You've fallen over, you landed hard, you heard something pop and you think 'I’ve broken my ankle!' but, have you really? Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between a sprain or a fracture (or even a dislocation), especially when you're rolling around in pain, but there are a few ways to tell what damage is done.

Firstly, let's break down what each of the injuries actually are. 

  • A fracture is a broken bone, the severity can range from a thin crack right through to a complete break. 
  • A sprain is a stretched or torn ligament - they're the tissues that connect bones at a joint. Sprains aren't to be confused with strains, which is an injury to muscles and tendons.
  • A dislocation is when a bone slips out of a joint, it can happen to almost any joint in the body but it most common to shoulders and fingers. 

Knowing what each of the injuries are doesn't always make it easier to know what you've done as they can have similar symptoms such as bruising, swelling and pain. You also might have one or all of the injuries mentioned. Matt Ryan, Director of Emergency Medicine at Epworth Geelong says that “A dislocation is probably the easiest to identify, as the bone will usually look out of place, unless you've got a compound fracture where the bone breaks through the skin, that should be pretty obvious too.” Other fractures and sprains can look, feel and even sound the same as they happen so if you're unsure, always treat the injury as a fracture. 

If the injury seems minor and the symptoms aren’t too bad, you can attempt to treat it yourself. The RICE method is recommended for treating this type of injury.
— Matt Ryan, Director of Emergency Medicine at Epworth Geelong
  • Resting the affected area for up to two days, you can aid this recovery with the use of slings, crutches and other supports.
  • Applying Ice to the area, to reduce swelling and help with pain.
  • Using Compression to help reduce swelling, being careful not to cut off the circulation
  • Elevating the injury as often as possible. Keeping the injured body part above heart level is a common way to remove swelling and fluid from the injury site. 

If you suspect the injury is a fracture or a break, seek medical help. If the skin is broken, or there is significant swelling and pain it is always safest to check with a doctor as soon as possible. Do not attempt to put a dislocated bone back in it's place yourself, this will not only be incredibly painful but can also cause further injury - always get a medical professional to treat a dislocation.

If you’re unsure, play it safe. It’s much better to head to the emergency room for a sprain or strain than to leave a fracture or dislocation untreated.
— Matt Ryan, Director of Emergency Medicine at Epworth Geelong

Epworth HealthCare provides emergency department services in Geelong (8am – 10pm, seven days) and Richmond (24/7).