Ankle Sprain or Fracture? How to Tell the Difference

Ankle injuries can be tricky. It may be hard to tell whether you’ve sprained your ankle or if it’s fractured. That’s because sprained and broken ankles result from similar injuries such as stepping and landing on the outside of your foot. This causes ligaments on the outside of the ankle stretch and can sometimes cause the small bone on the outside of your leg (fibula) to break , and both cause a great deal of pain.

When It’s a Sprain
The following are good indicators that you probably have an ankle sprain:

  • Pain around the soft tissue areas but not over the bone
  • Mild swelling and tenderness
  • Ability to bear weight and walk on the injury
  • Little to no pain when you press on the lower tips of the inner and outer ankle bones

Treating a sprained ankle depends on the severity of the injury. If it’s a mild sprain, it can be healed using the R.I.C.E method (Rest. Ice. Compress. Elevate.) along with stretching and strengthening exercises. Moderate sprains also use the R.I.C.E. method for treatment, just for a longer amount of time. Your doctor may also give you a splint to keep the ankle immobile and recommend physical therapy. Severe sprains must be completely immobilized and physical therapy is recommended.

When It’s a Fracture
Your ankle is likely broken if any of these symptoms appear:

  • Pain over the inside or outside of the ankle bone
  • Inability to walk on it
  • Swelling and pain
  • An obvious deformity or bone piercing the skin

Treating an ankle fracture may or may not require surgery. If the there is only one broken bone, the bones aren’t out of place, and the ankle is stable, your doctor may simply provide you with a splint or cast. But surgery will be required if the ankle is unstable in order to reinforce it. After surgery, you can expect to be in a cast for several weeks.

Regardless of the kind of ankle injury you have, it’s important to visit your doctor right away to accurately assess and treat your condition.

For more information about identifying the difference between an ankle sprain or fracture, or to schedule an appointment, please contact us or call 310.651.2366.


Posted in: Ankle Pain and Treatment, Uncategorized

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