The Difference Between a Sprained or Broken Ankle - Suffolk Foot and Ankle

The Difference Between a Sprained or Broken Ankle

The Difference Between a Sprained or Broken Ankle

When most people hurt their ankle, one of their first thoughts is if it’s sprained or broken. It can be difficult to know right away because the pain with a sprain and break can be similar. Knowing what to look for in a sprain and break can help you decide if you should seek medical attention.

What It Means to Break Your Ankle

When an ankle is broken, there is a fracture in one of the bones. This can be in the tibia, fubula, or talus.

The bone is considered fractured if it has a crack, chip, or is completely broken in two. These injuries are usually due to stress placed on the ankle joints, twisting the ankle in a way it isn’t meant to, or extending the joint past the point it is able to flex.

Those who have broken an ankle will often feel the following:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Pale skin
  • Deformities
  • Numbness
  • Inability to move the toes

In addition to these symptoms, the only way to diagnose a broken ankle is to have an x-ray performed on the area. This x-ray will show if there is a crack, chip or break in one of the ankle bones.

Treatment for a broken ankle may mean a cast or simply a wrap or boot around the ankle and foot. It’s important to immobilize the area, so it can heal properly on its own. It can take up to 8 weeks for the break to heal, but take several months for the person to regain complete strength and movement.

Surgery may be needed for severe breaks that do not heal or do not heal correctly.

When Is an Ankle Injury a Sprain?

A sprained ankle does not have anything to do with the bones of it. It has to do with the ligaments. When a ligament is torn or disrupted in some way, it can become inflamed and painful. Ligaments are fibrous tissues that hold the bones in the ankle together at the joints. This is why many people believe they broke their ankle when they really sprained it.

Symptoms of a sprained ankle include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness
  • Inability to stand on the affected foot
  • Pale skin
  • Stiffness

As you can see, the symptoms for a sprained ankle are like those of a broken ankle, but don’t include the inability to move the toes or deformities.

Diagnosing a sprained ankle also follows the same process as a broken one – performing an x-ray. While most foot doctors will have a good idea whether an ankle injury is a break or sprain, the x-ray can confirm it.

In severe cases, a podiatrist may request an MRI. This imaging can identify the ligaments that were affected and how badly.

Treatment consists of staying off the ankle as much as possible. A wrap or boot may be provided to keep the ankle from moving too much. This can speed up the healing process. Pain during recovery can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers, and elevating the foot can reduce any swelling.

What to Do After an Ankle Injury

After injuring your ankle, take a minute to assess the area. Even though you’re in pain, try to see if there are any signs of breakage, particularly a deformity. Before standing up, wiggle the toes. If you’re able to do that, stand up slowly and place just a little but of weight on the injured ankle or foot. Hold on to something while you do this, so you don’t fall if the foot can’t support your weight. If you’re able to stand, that’s good news. You may have just bruised the ankle or sprained it. However, if you cannot stand at all, there may be a break and you should seek medical attention immediately.

Contact Suffolk Foot and Ankle

We are the leaders in foot and ankle care in Suffolk County. If you’ve recently injured your ankle, contact our podiatrist for a thorough examination. Our podiatrist’s office in East Patchogue, Riverhead, Medford, and Commack can help you get back on your feet. Call us now for an appointment at 631-604-4648.