Fairfax Radiology Centers

Broken Ankle vs. Sprained Ankle: When to Call Your Doctor

Ankle sprains and breaks are common among athletes and weekend warriors. However, ankle injuries can affect people of all ages and activity levels. If it happens to you, learn how to spot the differences between a broken ankle vs. a sprained ankle and know when you should call your doctor.

Sprained Ankle

A sprain is an injury to the ligaments that join the bones of the ankle. Ankle sprains are usually caused by tripping or falling, landing awkwardly after a jump, a sudden impact, or twisting or rolling the ankle. Sprains can be mild to severe.

Broken Ankle

There are three bones in the ankle joint: the tibia, fibula, and talus. An injury can cause one or more of these bones to break, or fracture. Ankle fractures can be milder, like a small crack, or severe, with bones shattering and piercing through the skin. A person with a broken ankle also often has damage to the ligaments as well.

Is it a broken ankle or sprained ankle?

It is difficult to tell the difference between an ankle sprain and an ankle fracture. It is especially difficult to tell the difference between a severe ankle sprain and a broken ankle. The symptoms for a sprained ankle and a broken ankle are similar and include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Inability to bear weight on the injured ankle

It is most likely a sprained ankle if…

If you can put weight on your ankle after the injury and you are experiencing mild to moderate pain, it is most likely a sprain. Follow RICE Guidelines, which include:

  • Rest the ankle by not putting any weight on it.
  • Ice it to reduce swelling and ease pain.
  • Compress it with an over-the-counter bandage.
  • Elevate it to reduce swelling and ease pain.

If the pain does not get better or gets worse the next day, then call your doctor. If it gets better, continue to follow RICE Guidelines, and take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication if necessary.

It is most likely a broken ankle if…

You may have a broken ankle, and you should contact your doctor right away, if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • You have severe pain or pain that gets worse over time.
  • You cannot put any weight on the injured ankle.
  • You have trouble moving the injured ankle.
  • If you heard a popping noise at the time of the injury.
  • If you notice your ankle looks deformed or not aligned properly with your leg.

The only way to know for sure…

Often, the only way to know for sure whether your ankle is sprained or broken is to get an X-ray. Many people assume that if you can put weight on the ankle then it is not broken, however, it is possible to walk on a broken ankle, particularly with a less severe fracture. If you are concerned your ankle may be broken, we recommend contacting your doctor, who can conduct an examination or order an X-ray if necessary.

*This information is not intended for diagnostic or treatment purposes. We advise you to consult your doctor for personalized guidance and care.

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