Sprained vs. Broken Ankle: This Is How to Tell the Difference

nucitrusAlternative Pain Relief, Ankle Pain, Injury Recovery

Tell us if you’ve heard this before:

You just came back from a workout, a pickup game of basketball, a hike. Maybe you just bumped your ankle funny against furniture. All of a sudden you’re feeling lingering pain around your ankles and it just won’t go away. 

The question then becomes whether you’ve sprained or broken your ankles. This presents another issue because sprained and broken ankles require different treatments. 

In this article, we’ll be discussing the differences between a sprained vs. broken ankle to help you treat your injuries the right way.  

What’s a Sprained Ankle?

Let’s first detail what a sprained ankle is. 

It’s an injury to the ligaments or the tough bands of tissue that surround and connect your leg bones to your foot. It usually happens when you awkwardly twist or turn your ankles in a funky way. 

This stretches or tears those ligaments that hold your ankle bones and joints together. 

Ligaments all have very specific ranges of motion to stabilize your joints. When they’re taken past those boundaries, that’s when sprains happen. 

What Causes Sprained Ankles?

Like we mentioned earlier, sprains happen when your ankles twist or move in an awkward fashion where it puts stress on your ligaments. 

You typically see it happen when people roll their ankles. This puts the ankle joint out of its normal position 

Whether you’re playing sports, running, or simply step in a ditch, a twist can cause your ligaments to stretch and tear. 

What’s a Broken Ankle?

A broken ankle, on the other hand, occurs when one or more bones in the ankle joint break. It’s also known as an ankle fracture. 

The ankle joint is made up of three bones:

  • The tibia or the shinbone
  • The calf bone or the fibula
  • The talus

Explaining a broken ankle is a little simpler than sprained ankles. When one or more of those three bones in your ankle joint break, you’ve broken your ankles. 

What Causes Broken Ankles?

Much like sprained ankles, breaks happen during physical activity or during missteps. 

Tripping and falling in poorly lit areas or on uneven ground is known to cause broken ankles. If you fall or jump from a tall height and land on your feet, it can cause breaks as well. 

Twisting your ankle from an awkward step can even be enough to break your ankle. Additionally, many experience breaks during sports games or car accidents. 

Sprained Ankle vs. Broken Ankle

You now know what ankle sprains and ankle breaks are, but that knowledge might not mean much if you don’t know the signs. 

Not everyone can feel their ligaments tearing or their bones breaking. However, there’s plenty of external signs to take note of. 

Signs of a Sprained Ankle

If your ankles are swelling and that’s accompanied by tenderness and bruising, chances are it’s a sprain. Other signs include stiffness and discoloration.

With that said, sprained ankles do share symptoms with other ankle injuries. Turns out, your ankle can sustain a wide range of injuries.  

Signs of a Broken Ankle

Bruising, swelling, and the inability to put weight on your ankles are also symptoms of breaks. Sometimes your ankles might be crooked because of dislocation. 

If a broken ankle is severe, you’ll experience dizziness and maybe even bleeding if the bone protrudes from under the skin.  

How Can You Tell?

Sometimes sprained and broken ankles share similar symptoms. When you just aren’t sure from the outset, ask yourself these questions:

Was There a Noise?

Sprains typically don’t make much noise. At times, you’ll hear a pop. An ankle fracture, on the other hand, might produce a cracking noise. 

Is Your Ankle Numb?

An ankle sprain is painful straight from the outset. If you feel more of a numbness or tingling sensation, chances are it’s a break. 

Where is the Pain Centralized?

If your ankles feel tender or painful to the touch right above your bones, it could be a fracture. If the pain is more to the soft parts of your ankle, then it could be a sprain. 

Could You Walk on It Immediately?

Sometimes you can put weight on your ankles after you’ve sprained them. With a fracture, it immediately becomes harder to put weight on your ankle.

If you’re still unsure, or if you want an immediate answer, it’s best to see a doctor right away. They’ll run tests, x-rays, and other scans to diagnose your ankles.  

Treating a Sprained Ankle

Sprained ankle treatment is relatively lax and takes a lot of time and patience. You might ease the pain with anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. 

Doctors usually prescribe the RICE method of treatment. RICE stands for “rest, ice, compression, elevation.” 

Some sprains require physical therapy. This usually involves a range of motion exercises that you perform once the swelling and pain go away. Stem cell therapy is also emerging as a popular treatment for ankles. 

Treating a Broken Ankle 

A broken ankle requires more complicated treatments. Immobilizing the ankle comes first. This means you’ll likely be on crutches or have your ankles in a cast. 

Doctors will try to align the bones correctly to help them heal – if this fails, you’ll need surgery. 

The RICE method applies here as well. It all comes down to what the doctor prescribes. 

Sprained vs. Broken Ankle: Know the Difference and Get the Right Treatment

Knowing the difference between a sprained vs. broken ankle is crucial for getting the right treatment. Use this guide to get the help you need to heal your ankles quicker. 

Have traditional ankle treatments failed you? Looking for another way of healing your ankles? Contact us today and we can get you started in our program right away!