How to Wrap a Sprained Ankle

Ever wondered the difference between a sprain, a strain, and a fracture? How about tendonitis and bursitis? Though pain is a common symptom for all these conditions, they are all different types of orthopaedic injuries.

Here’s how to tell the difference between these conditions.


What it is: A sprain refers to a stretch or tear of a ligament. Ligaments are the bands of tissue that connect one bone to another. They’re strong, but they are still vulnerable to injury when you twist your ankle or knee, or fall hard on your arm or hand.

What it feels like: Immediate pain, often followed by swelling and bruising.

How it’s usually treated: Rest, ice, and elevation, combined with anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen. Severe sprains might require a cast, or even surgery.

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What it is: Unlike a sprain, which affects the ligaments, a strain is a muscle or tendon tear. Strains often happen when you stretch a muscle too far, lift something improperly, or land a little too hard or crooked.

What it feels like: It feels similar to a sprain. You might also feel a muscle spasm or have muscle weakness.

How it’s usually treated: The first course of treatment for both sprains and strains is the same: rest, ice, elevation, and anti-inflammatory medications. Severe strains sometimes require surgery. Physical therapy is usually a good idea after any kind of severe strain.


What it is: A fracture is a broken bone. Bones can break from trauma, like a fall or an accident. They can also develop small cracks from overuse — called a stress fracture.

What it feels like: A traumatic bone break often feels like a sharp, stabbing pain. If it’s a foot or arm, the limb may bend in an odd way. With stress fractures, the pain often worsens with activity and goes away during rest.

How it’s usually treated: For small cracks or breaks, doctors may treat with a splint or air cast. For severe breaks, you may need surgery before casting. Some types of fractures, like broken ribs, heal on their own.


What it is: As its name suggests, tendonitis affects your tendons. It’s an irritation of a tendon, which is the ropy cord that connects muscles to bone.

What it feels like: Tendonitis can happen in lots of places in the body. Hips and knees are common spots, as are the many tendons in your feet, ankles, and calves. The hallmark of tendonitis is pain during activity, which can be sharp or dull.

How it’s usually treated: Laying off the activity that causes pain is usually the first thing your doctor will recommend. Ice, physical therapy, and stretching and strengthening exercises can all help, too. Orthopaedic surgeons may perform arthroscopic surgery for severe tendonitis.


What it is: Bursitis is a swelling in the sac that cushions your bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It’s most common in older people but can also happen because of injury or repetitive motions.

What it feels like: Bursitis causes intermittent pain. You may also feel aching, stiffness, or tenderness in the area. It’s most common in elbows, knees, hips, shoulders, and the Achilles tendon.

How it’s usually treated: Your doctor may advise rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medicines. Physical therapy can help, as can injections (to manage pain). In some cases, doctors perform surgery for bursitis.

If you have pain that’s not improving and suspect any of these conditions, make an appointment with your doctor sooner rather than later. The sooner you get treatment, the sooner you can get back to the activities you love.

To learn more or schedule an appointment with UPMC Orthopaedic Care, please call 1-866-987-6784 or contact us online.

About UPMC Orthopaedic Care

When you are dealing with bone, muscle, or joint pain, it can affect your daily life. UPMC Orthopaedic Care can help. As a national leader in advanced orthopaedic care, we diagnose and treat a full range of musculoskeletal disorders, from the acute and chronic to the common and complex. We provide access to UPMC’s vast network of support services for both surgical and nonsurgical treatments and a full continuum of care. Our multidisciplinary team of experts will work with you to develop the treatment plan that works best for you. Our care team uses the most innovative tools and techniques to provide better outcomes. We also are leaders in research and clinical trials, striving to find better ways to provide our patients care. With locations throughout our communities, you can find a provider near you.