Is Your Ankle Sprained or Broken? (And What to Do Either Way)

With the exception of shady individuals wishing to commit insurance fraud, nobody ever plans on injuring their ankle. And if and when it does happen, one is rarely in a great position for self-diagnosis.

You might be out on a run, charging down the court, or simply going from point A to point B during your day. All it takes is one wrong hit, one small obstacle in your way, or one small misstep to bring on a flash of pain. And right after that, the big question usually pops into mind:

What did I just do to my ankle?!

Any sort of injury to an ankle can be frightening, because it’s a swift and humbling reminder of just how much we these joints to get around. The fear of “just how bad” it is can be very real, and it is natural to think in two terms: sprains and breaks.

Knowing the difference between an ankle sprain and a broken ankle can be very useful—and we will be getting into that shortly—but it is even more important to have the right general mindset toward ankle injuries as a whole.

Both Sprains and Breaks Need Attention

Before we even get into the differences between the ways broken and sprained ankles present themselves, we need to talk about the way we tend to put these injuries in a hierarchy of severity.

Yes, it is true that many ankle sprains are minor and can be treated well enough at home. It is also true that most ankle fractures are going to require professional intervention of some kind. However, this is no excuse to treat all ankle sprains as nothing to be too concerned about.

Any sprain that does not heal properly can have lasting negative effects on that joint, much like any broken ankle that does not fully heal. An ankle sprain that weakens the joint can lead to instability and a higher risk of future ankle injuries. A vicious cycle can quickly develop that leads to chronic pain and problems.

What does this mean for you, then? It means you should never hesitate to contact us anytime you injure your ankle, no matter how minor you think it may be! While it’s possible that we’ll only recommend a few simple self-care instructions, ensuring you get the right level of care you require regardless of injury severity is critically important.

Tips for Determining a Sprain or a Break

So when you do call us, it’s important to know what kind of information to share with us. Knowing some of the potential differences between a broken ankle and a sprained one can be a help with that.

First, let’s go over the basics. A sprain is an injury to the ligaments surrounding a joint. These are the stretchy tissues that hold the joint in place and help keep it stable. When these tissues are stretched beyond their limits, they can become torn or inflamed, leading to a sprain.

An ankle fracture is, naturally, a break in one or more bones that make up the ankle joint itself. Different types of fractures exist, but there isn’t much more to say about them on a fundamental level.

There is also always the possibility that both the bones and ligaments have suffered damage in an injury. How lucky.

When considering whether your injury is a sprain or a fracture, ask yourself the following:

  • Did you hear anything when the injury happened? A sprain is more likely to be associated with a “popping” noise, or no sound at all. The sound of a fracture is more like a crack or snap. Of course, if you just got slammed into the ground, you might not have had your ears out and ready to listen for much.
  • Where is the pain located? Pain in the soft area of the ankle tends to indicate a sprain. If the pain is centered directly over the ankle bone, a fracture is more likely.
  • Do you have numbness? When a sprain occurs, pain tends to remain consistent. With a fracture, however, the initial flash of pain can sometimes be replaced by a numbness or tingling sensation.
  • Does your ankle look deformed? If your foot or ankle looks significantly misshapen, then it is more likely a fracture. Do not mistake general swelling for any kind of misshapenness, however, as swelling is common in both cases.

Determining whether you can bear weight and walk on an injury is not something you should be focusing on right after an injury happens. In any case, get weight off the injured ankle as soon as possible. Keeping the ankle elevated and applying ice to the area up to 20 minutes at a time can also help with initial pain and swelling.

Don’t Hold Off on Ankle Care!

Remember, regardless of how severe or minor an ankle injury may feel, we still recommend contacting us about it. Let us know what happened and we can provide you further guidance or a full examination. If necessary, we can get you started on casting, physical therapy, or other treatments such as our advanced laser therapy.

Call (208) 731-6321 to reach our offices in Twin Falls or Burley. 

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