If you think you’ve broken, dislocated, or sprained a part of your body, you know at least one thing for sure: you’re in pain (and probably a lot of it). And, if that’s so, your first move should be to visit a local clinic or emergency care center to get it assessed.

However, it may interest you to know what the difference between broken, dislocated, and sprained bones as a matter of fact because, for most of us, it’s hard to differentiate between the terms. Often the diagnoses will come from similar symptoms—swelling, soreness, and an inability to use the afflicted body part as you usually would use it—so, knowing the difference can often be a hard task.

Here at Founders Family Medicine, we know the importance of education, so below we’ve decided to clear things up for you:

When a bone is broken…

When a bone is broken it doesn’t mean that it no longer works, it means that you have a break in your bone like a crack in a window or a split in your fingernail.

Broken bones are labeled as both ‘broken’ and ‘fractured’, and they include various kinds of breaks that range from simple breaks to more complicated ones like a comminuted fracture (meaning the bone has shattered into three or more pieces—Ouch!)

Your symptoms may include things like swelling, bruising, and even deformity, as well as the obvious: Pain. So when being treated for such an injury, what can you expect?

Usually treatment begins with an x-ray so that medical staff can generate a clear image of the break. Your ongoing treatment then depends on the type of break, the severity of it, and where it is located in your body.

To heal from a broken bone can take anywhere from several weeks to several months. Likely, it will include the use of a cast and, in more extreme cases, the use of metal plates and screws to fixate your bone during the healing process.

When a bone is dislocated…

When a bone is dislocated it means that the end of your bone has moved out of its intended position within a joint. This can be incredibly painful and, if left untreated, can cause damage to your nerves and tendons.

It’s common that a dislocation will occur in your ankle, knee, shoulder, hip, elbow, or fingers. The symptoms of such an injury will likely include swelling, bruising, and intense pain. It’s also likely that you will be able to easily see that the bone is out of place.

The healing process may include a sling or split and will usually take between 2 and 3 weeks, unless the injury is severe and requires more healing time. However, even after it has healed, a dislocated bone is always more prone to dislocating in the future.

When you have incurred a sprain…

All bones are connected by ligaments. When you have incurred a sprain it means that the ligaments between two bones have been torn.

A sprain is often less severe than a break or a dislocation, however it will still require a trip to the doctors because if a sprain is severe, and left untreated, it may require surgery to repair the damaged ligaments so that your bones can go back to being supported properly.

Treatment for a sprain usually includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation—more commonly known as R.I.C.E. With appropriate care, your sprain will likely disappear in a few weeks.

If you suspect you are suffering from a break, dislocation, or sprain, then seeking medical advice from an experienced medical team is absolutely imperative.


  • Anthony Cerullo

    Founders Family Medicine and Urgent Care

    I enjoy most areas of medicine including geriatric, internal medicine, sports medicine, urgent care, trauma and annual Physicals.