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Sprained Ankle Vs Broken Ankle

By Tim Wall

What’s the difference between a sprained ankle and a broken ankle?

Ankle injury

Image of athlete with ankle injury.

Symptoms

One of the most common injuries in sports and everyday activities are injuries to the ankle. It is often difficult to tell if you have just sprained your ankle or you have broken or fractured it. The severity of the injury can often be determined by the amount of swelling and pain after the injury. Often, after a severe ankle sprain or a broken ankle, the injured person also hears a “pop” or “snap” in their ankle.

 

Broken Ankle

A broken ankle or a fracture to the ankle can be determined by an x-ray. On the lateral or outside aspect of the ankle, the fibula or lateral malleolus can be fractured. This usually occurs with a twisting type motion of the ankle. On the inside of the ankle, the medial malleolus or tibia can also be fractured as well as the talus. The severity of the fractures determines the treatment. Some can be treated with immobilization, while others may need surgical intervention.

 

Sprained Ankle

An ankle sprain occurs when the strong ligaments that support the ankle stretch beyond their limits and tear. Ankle sprains are common injuries that occur among people of all ages. They range from mild to severe, depending upon how much damage there is to the ligaments. Most sprained ankles occur in the lateral ligaments on the outside of the ankle. Sprains can range from tiny tears in the fibers that make up the ligament to complete tears through the tissue. If there is a complete tear of the ligaments, the ankle may become unstable after the initial injury phase passes. Over time, this instability can result in damage to the bones and cartilage of the ankle joint.

Your foot can twist unexpectedly during many different activities, such as walking or exercising on an uneven surface, participating in sports that require cutting actions or rolling and twisting of the foot—or someone else may step on your foot while you are running, causing your foot to twist or roll to the side. If there is severe tearing of the ligaments, you might also hear or feel a “pop” when the sprain occurs. Symptoms of a severe sprain are similar to those of a broken bone and require prompt medical evaluation. A sprained ankle is painful. Other symptoms may include swelling, bruising, tenderness to touch or instability of the ankle.

 

Treatment

Most sprains are minor injuries that heal with home treatments like rest and applying ice and compression to reduce the pain and swelling. However, if your ankle is extremely swollen and painful to walk on — or if you are having trouble putting weight on your ankle at all, be sure to see an orthopedic doctor. Without proper treatment and rehabilitation, a more severe sprain can weaken your ankle—making it more likely that you will injure it again. Repeated ankle sprains can lead to long-term problems, including chronic ankle pain, arthritis, and ongoing instability.

Make an appointment with one of our foot and ankle Physicians 

Make an appointment with a JOI Physical Therapist at a location near you


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