It’s not always easy to tell the difference between a broken bone and a sprained ligament. In fact, sometimes it can be tough to tell whether or not you’ve even broken or sprained your bone at all! If you’ve experienced an injury that continues to cause discomfort, it is important to contact Dr. Hicken, your local orthopaedic specialist. Different injuries require different treatments and you want to make sure you’re taking care of your body properly to get back to your favorite activities as quickly as possible.

Broken Bone

A broken bone also called a fracture, is a complete or partial break in the continuity of the bone. Fractures can be caused by high-impact trauma or by repetitive stress on the bone and fall under two categories:

  • Closed or simple – the bone doesn’t cut through the skin
  • Open or compound – the bone pierces the skin, or the wound exposes the bone


Hearing a bone break or experiencing a compound fracture are obvious signs of a broken bone. Other signs and symptoms of a break include:

  • Sudden pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Redness

In some cases, the fracture may cause a visible deformity. It will also be painful and difficult to move the fractured limb or other body parts near it.

Treatment Options

Depending on the severity of the break, you may need anything from a simple splint to keep your bone in place to surgery to insert metal rods, plates, or screws into the bone.

Sprained Ligament

A sprain occurs when your ligaments are stretched or torn. Ligaments are the fibrous bands of tissue that connect the bones that meet at the joints. Therefore, when you hear the term sprained ligament, it pertains to the overextension or tearing of the ligaments. 

Leading causes of a sprain include falling, awkwardly twisting your body, exercising on uneven surfaces, losing your balance, and landing awkwardly on your foot or hand. Common sites for sprains are the ankles, knees, wrists, or thumbs.

Sprains are classified into 3 categories depending on the severity of the injury:

  • Grade 1 (mild sprain) – the ligaments are lightly stretched
  • Grade 2 (moderate sprain) – the ligaments experience a partial tear
  • Grade 3 (severe sprain) – the ligaments separate completely


A sprain is painful and can cause limited mobility. You may experience inflammation and bruising of the area, as well as instability, especially in the knees or ankles.

Treatment Options

Most mild and moderate sprains can be treated using the R.I.C.E. method:

  • Rest – avoid moving or putting pressure on the injury
  • Ice – apply ice over the sprain to relieve pain and decrease swelling
  • Compress – wrap an athletic tape or medical bandage around the injured area to reduce the inflammation
  • Elevate – raise the sprained body part to a level above your heart to lessen the swelling

If the injury is more severe, Dr. Hicken may recommend wearing a brace or splint to immobilize the affected area. They may also prescribe some over-the-counter pain medication as necessary.

Sprained ligaments and broken bones can have similar symptoms but require very different treatments. If you believe you have experienced either injury, give Dr. Hicken a call! 435-787-2000