The Difference Between a Sprained Ankle and a Broken Ankle

Our busy lives take a toll on our bodies, and in particular our joints. The ankle joint takes a significant amount of the stress of everyday movement as it is vital to supporting and distributing bodyweight.

The ankle joint is a complex and vulnerable structure. The ankle is made up of the joining of the leg (tibia and fibula) and foot (talus) bones with support and movement provided by ligaments and muscles. An ankle roll, bad landing, or fall can easily lead to injury to one of the many vital parts of the ankle. Ankle injuries are unfortunately common. Approximately 2 million people in the US are treated for ankle injuries each year. Two of the most common types of ankle injuries include ankle sprains and breaks. Often, these injuries can appear the same.

If you’ve experienced an ankle injury, it’s imperative to seek professional diagnosis as soon as possible. A broken ankle can often be mistaken for a sprain, even with an X-ray, due to the complex structure of tissue, muscle, and ligaments concealing the bone. If not properly treated, an ankle break can lead to further pain, damage to the ankle joint, and impede mobility.

Read on for more info on the differences between a sprained ankle and a broken ankle:

Symptoms of a Sprained Ankle

An ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments holding the bones of the ankle joint together are injured or torn. Sprains often occur when the ankle is twisted or overextended past it’s natural range of motion, such as when you roll your ankle, stretching the ligaments to the point of tearing.

common foot problems sock image

Symptoms of an ankle sprain include:

  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Inability to hold weight
  • Stiffness
  • If you think you may have sustained an ankle sprain, it’s important to seek diagnosis as soon as possible. Your orthopaedic specialist will determine the severity of the sprain and the best course of treatment.

    Treatments for an ankle sprain include:

  • Wearing a brace to support the ankle
  • Use of a crutch to keep the weight off the joint
  • Rest and implementing the PRICE method
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the joint and restore range of motion
  • While rare in the case of a sprain, in acute cases, reconstructive surgery may be necessary to repair the torn ligaments and stabilize the joint
  • Symptoms of a Broken Ankle

    A broken ankle is defined by a fracture, crack, chip, or break in one of the bones of the ankle (including the fibula, tibia, and talus). A break is caused by stressing the bones of the ankle beyond their threshold of strength. They can be caused by twists and rolls, or by severe force such as falling. Ankle breaks are often accompanied by ankle sprains.

    common foot problems sock image

    Symptoms of a broken ankle include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Numbness of the toes or an inability to move the toes
  • Noticeable deformities of the bones around the ankle
  • While the symptoms for an ankle break are very similar to that of a sprain, the course of treatment will vary. Due to the high percentage of similarities in symptoms, it’s important to get an official diagnosis from an orthopaedic specialist as soon as possible. Your orthopaedic specialist will determine if a break is present and the severity of the break through a physical exam and X-rays before determining a course of treatment.

    Treatments for a broken ankle include:

  • Rest and implementing of the PRICE method
  • Taping or wrapping for less severe breaks
  • Casting and booting for more severe breaks
  • Use of a crutch to keep the weight off the joint
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the joint and restore range of motion
  • In severe cases, arthroscopic surgery to remove fragments of broken bone from the joint area
  • Treatment at MidAmerica Orthopaedics

    Whether you believe your ankle injury is a sprain or a break, the best course of action is to get it examined by a foot and ankle orthopaedic specialist as soon as possible. At MidAmerica Orthopaedics the expert physicians and physical therapists of our Foot and Ankle Clinic bring top of the industry experience and expertise to craft the best treatment course to get your back on your feet as soon as possible. The orthopaedic surgeons and physicians of the Foot and Ankle clinic work side by side with our industry leading physical therapists for the least invasive treatment possible.

    Svetlana Zats, DPM
    Svetlana Zats, DPM

    Dr. Svetlana Zats is MidAmerica’s foot and ankle specialist. Dr. Zat’s is well-versed in the diagnosis and treatment of common and complex foot and ankle injuries, including ankle sprains and breaks. Dr. Zat’s utilizes her years of expertise to find the non-surgical and surgical treatment options that work best for her patients.

    Sarkis M. Bedikian D.O.
    Sarkis M. Bedikian D.O.

    Dr. Sarkis Bedikian is one of MidAmerica’s premier orthopaedic surgeons. Dr. Bedikian is an expert in joint reconstruction, and can tackle even the most complex ankle injury surgical cases. Dr. Bedikian strives to improve quality of life and return his patient’s to a full and active lifestyle.

    To learn more about MidAmerica Orthopaedics and the different treatment options available to you, request an appointment online or call (708) 237-7200. MidAmerica Orthopaedics serves various areas such as Chicago, Tinley Park, Palos Hills, Mokena, Evergreen Park, New Lenox, Oak Lawn, Orland Park, and more.

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