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Dislocations, Sprains and Fractures: What’s the Difference?

dislocationsBones and joints are frequently injured, whether on the court, at the workplace, or simply catching a bad angle while walking. Whatever the case, people are often confused about the nature of the problem. Is it a sprain, a strain, a dislocation, a fracture? What’s the difference? What’s the recommended treatment for each?

First off, each of these is a different type of musculoskeletal injury. That means it could involve bones, ligaments, tendons or muscles—and sometimes a combination of these. Your local urgent care center may give similar treatments for such injuries, but depending on the exact type and severity of the problem, treatment can vary widely. That’s why it’s important to get checked and diagnosed in the majority of cases.

In order to gain a better understanding of these musculoskeletal injuries, let’s look at them one by one and compare.

Strains are also known as pulled muscles. This happens when a strong force suddenly pulls a muscle or tendon and causes it to tear. Incorrect lifting (including the attempt to lift something too heavy) and slips/falls are common ways to experience a strain. This type of injury occurs most commonly in the legs or back, but also happens frequently in the neck.

Sprains are injuries to the ligaments around joints. A sudden forceful twist causes bones to come apart at the joint, resulting in a torn ligament. This is a very common sports injury as athletes change direction too quickly, but can also occur while jogging or walking. Most people have experienced a sprained ankle or wrist at some point. Sprained knees are also fairly common.

Dislocations are a painful injury in which a bone actually slips out of its joint. When this type of injury occurs, there’s usually very little doubt. Falls and other blunt traumas are the most common causes for dislocations, and virtually any joint in the body can be dislocated. Shoulders are commonly affected, as are knees, ankles and hips. Dislocation is serious medical situation and urgent care should be sought immediately to move the bone back into its proper position.

Fractures are broken bones of all types. Any of the injuries or situations mentioned above may have been strong enough to break a bone. An open fracture is one in which the bone comes through the skin, while a closed fracture refers to a broken bone that does not come through the skin. A hairline fracture is generally the least serious type of broken bone.

How do you know, and what should you do?

It’s not always easy to know which of these types of musculoskeletal injury a person has sustained. Bruises, swelling and various levels of pain are present in all cases. It’s also possible (and fairly common) to have a combination of these injuries.

If the injury seems minor and symptoms are not severe, many people choose to treat it themselves. The RICE method of treatment is commonly recommended. This refers to:

Resting the affected part of the body for up to two days. This may involve crutches, braces, slings or other supports.

Applying ice regularly to the site of injury in order to bring down the swelling, reduce inflammation and help with the pain.

Using compression to further bring down swelling. Many types of bandages and tapes can help with this, but it’s important not to cut off circulation.

Elevating the affected part of the body whenever the patient is seated or in bed. Keeping the injury above the level of the heart is a common way to remove swelling and fluids from the site of injury.

There are certain situations in which you should always seek medical help at your nearest urgent care clinic or other medical facility. Whenever you think there’s a chance that the injury is a fracture or a dislocation, seek medical help. If the skin is broken, if the area below the injury (further away from the heart) has numbness or discoloration, or if the patient is in severe pain with significant swelling, always see a doctor as soon as possible.

Better safe than sorry is a good philosophy when dealing with musculoskeletal injuries. Seeing a doctor when you’ve only had a minor strain is still better than delaying treatment for a serious injury and developing more serious complications as a result. And as always, stay safe and always stretch and warm up your joints and muscles properly before any strenuous physical activity!

Thanks for reading. We hope you’ve found this information useful, and welcome your thoughts in the area below.

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