How to Tell the Difference Between a Broken Ankle and a Sprain

October 23, 2018

Posted By : njbj

Ankle sprains and fractures can affect anyone, especially those who maintain an active lifestyle. Here’s how to tell these injuries apart and find the right treatment for you.

The ankle is an important joint that supports the entire weight of the body and allows for movement in the foot. Unfortunately, this area is prone to common injuries like sprains and fractures, which can affect everyone from professional athletes to office workers.

While breaks and sprains share many of the same causes and symptoms, there are several important features that distinguish these conditions. Learn more about each injury to determine what’s causing your ankle pain, and discover how you can find relief.


A sprain occurs when ligaments, which are the elastic bands that connect bone to bone, become overstretched or torn. A sprained ankle is often caused by sudden force, such as a fall that pushes the joint beyond its normal range of motion.

Symptoms of an ankle sprain can vary depending on the severity of the injury. Some common symptoms include pain that worsens when putting weight on the foot, swelling and bruising at the site of the sprain, and a limited range of motion in the foot and ankle. In the case of a severe injury, you may hear a sudden “popping” sound, which signifies a ruptured ligament.

Most sprains can be treated relatively simply with conservative methods. Physicians generally recommend resting the ankle, icing it at least eight times per day, compressing it with a bandage or brace, and elevating it whenever sitting or lying down.

While these strategies will help heal most mild sprains, more serious injuries will benefit from a physical therapy regimen as well. You should begin physical therapy about two days after your injury, and continue until any pain or stiffness has subsided. As you perform regular stretches and gentle exercises, you can rebuild and strengthen your ankle muscles.

Compared to other injuries, the recovery time for a sprained ankle is relatively short. Most patients with mild sprains will take between four to eight weeks to heal, while patients with more severe sprains may require three to six months of rehabilitation.


An ankle fracture is the result of a break in one or more of the bones in the ankle. This injury is often caused by a fall or accident, but overuse may contribute to stress fractures in athletes. Conditions like osteoporosis (a thinning of the bones usually occurring in elderly patients) can also be a risk factor.

Symptoms of a fracture are often similar to those of a sprain, with a few key differences. A broken ankle may be accompanied by a “cracking” noise, numbness in the affected area, and a complete inability to move the ankle or foot. An ankle that appears crooked or deformed is another sign of a broken bone. If you’re suffering from a fracture, you’ll likely be in extreme pain and unable to put any weight on your foot.

A fracture needs to be examined by a doctor, who can determine the appropriate treatment plan for your specific injury. Most broken ankles respond well to conservative methods like splints and casts, which serve to immobilize the area as it heals. In more serious cases, surgery may be required to realign the bone before a cast is applied.

Depending on the severity of the injury, an ankle fracture can take several weeks or months to heal. As you recover, it’s important to rest and keep weight off of your foot. A physical therapy program can help you rebuild your strength and gradually increase your activity levels.

If you’re suffering from a broken or sprained ankle, it’s important to visit an orthopedic specialist immediately. Dr. Christine M. Ellie is a top foot and ankle doctor at New Jersey Bone & Joint Specialists, and is experienced in developing personalized treatment plans for a variety of conditions. As a nationally respected foot and ankle specialist, she has helped her patients return to action through both conservative methods and surgical intervention. Contact us to set up a consultation today.

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