The Difference Between a Sprained and Broken Ankle

The difference between a sprained or a broken ankle in terms of pain is minimal. Our ankles do a lot for us. They bear our weight as we run, jump, walk and climb. It is no wonder that ankle injuries are so common. While you might feel immense pain after rolling your ankle or landing on it wrong, it does not mean that you have a broken ankle. Instead, you might have a sprained ankle. They might result from similar activities, but they require different treatment. In this article, you will learn how to tell the difference between a sprained or broken ankle and what that means for your recovery.

broken ankleSprained Ankle vs. Broken Ankle

Sprained ankle vs. broken ankle. On the surface, it is hard to tell the difference. Pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty walking are symptoms of both sprained and broken ankles. So, how do you tell the difference between a sprained or broken ankle if the symptoms present so similarly? 

The main difference between a sprained or broken ankle is the severity. While you will feel mild to moderate pain with a sprained ankle, you will feel moderate to severe pain if you have a broken ankle. You should be able to put weight on your ankle immediately or within a few hours if you have a sprained ankle while you will be unable to put any weight on your ankle if it is broken.

In severe cases of a broken ankle, you might notice a deformity of the bone. Perhaps it is sticking out at a strange angle or anywhere else it is not supposed to be. This is a surefire way to know that you have a broken ankle vs a sprained ankle. 

The best way to tell the difference between a sprained or broken ankle is to talk to a doctor. They will examine your ankle and send you for an x-ray to determine if your ankle is broken and how severe the break is. They will also be able to provide you with treatment options both for broken and sprained ankles.

Sprained Ankle Treatments

If you sprain your ankle, the best thing you can do is ice it and elevate it. Use an ice pack for twenty minutes in two to three hour intervals. You can also use compression to help the swelling subside. Wrap your ankle in an elastic bandage. Be sure it is snug, but not so tight that it cuts off your circulation. If the pain persists, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Above all, you should rest. Try not to aggravate your injury further. It needs time to heal.

Treatments for a Broken Ankle

The difference between a sprained or broken ankle in terms of treatment is that broken ankles often require the help of a doctor to properly heal. A doctor may need to set the bone and place it in a cast to keep it immobilized until it heals. During this time you should stay off of it as much as possible to let it heal without risking further injury. 

In severe cases, a broken ankle may need surgery to heal properly. A surgeon may use pins, plates, or screws to keep the ankle together as it heals. Sometimes they are removed after the ankle has healed, other times they will stay in if they are not causing any harm. Once the surgery is complete, it typically takes four to six weeks for the bone to heal. After the bone heals the patient may have another six weeks of physical therapy. 

ankle painBroken Ankle

The ankle joint is composed of three bones, the tibia, fibula, and talus. The tibia and fibula are in the leg while the talus resides in the spot you would think is your ankle. The talus connects your leg to your foot. When you break your ankle, these are the bones affected. 

Ligaments connect bones. When you sprain your ankle, it is often the ligaments that are injured. In the case of a severely broken ankle, the ligaments can become torn in addition to broken bone. This causes extreme difficulty walking. It may even be impossible as the intact ligaments are necessary for walking stability. 

Broken Ankle Causes

There are multiple ways that an ankle can break. When the ankle is broken, it is often because of a rotational injury. You might say that you twisted or rolled your ankle. Those are rotational injuries. The ankle moves beyond its normal range of motion resulting in the bones snapping.

Ankles can also break due to impact injuries. Impact injuries occur when the ankle is hit at a high speed. This often occurs in car accidents.

Repetitive stress can also lead to a break. These kinds of breaks are called stress fractures. These are most common in people who increase their activity level quickly. Over time, the bone weakens from the repetitive stress of certain activities ultimately resulting in a break. 

Fractured Ankle

You might have heard the term fracture as you were researching the difference between a sprained or broken ankle. Some people claim that a fractured ankle is worse than a broken ankle while others claim the opposite. The truth is that they are both wrong. 

A fractured ankle is the same as a broken ankle. Most doctors will use the term fractured ankle while the term broken ankle is used more colloquially. If you hear your doctor or someone else tells you that you have a fractured ankle, know that it is a broken ankle. It is no better or worse, it is just a different way of saying the same thing. 

sprained ankleFoot and Ankle Specialists of Illinois

Only a doctor can tell you the difference between a sprained or broken ankle. You do not want to assume it is a sprain and leave a break untreated. Knowing the difference between a sprained or broken ankle will be the difference between letting a break heal incorrectly and having it heal correctly. If you are in the Algonquin area and you are having ankle problems, the Foot and Ankle Specialists of Illinois have you covered. Our expert doctors offer comprehensive care from sprains to breaks to bunions and calluses. If the problem is your feet or ankles, we can take care of it and get you up and running. 

Written by Ali Hyderi