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Ankle Sprain vs. Fracture: How Can I Tell the Difference?

Ankle Sprain vs. Fracture: How Can I Tell the Difference?

Your ankle is a joint with three bones: the fibula and tibia in your lower leg, and the talus in your foot. Strong bands of tissue called ligaments connect the bones and wrap around them to stabilize your ankle joint.

Your ankles are naturally strong and flexible, but ankle injuries are common among people of all ages. A fall, an awkward step, or a strong impact can leave you with pain, swelling, and limited mobility — and these symptoms often leave you wondering how to fix it.

The right treatment depends on the type of injury you have, and it’s not always easy to determine what’s wrong with your ankle. Sprained ankles and broken ankles can look and feel similar, so it’s important to turn to an expert for care.

Bryon Butts, DPM, and our team at Performance Footcare PC in New York City and Lake Success, New York, can diagnose your injury and help you get back on your feet. Here’s what you need to know.

Symptoms of a sprained ankle

A sprain is an injury to the ligaments around your ankle. It happens when the tissues get too stretched out and can’t stabilize your joint anymore. Ankle sprains cause symptoms like:

Sprained ankles are one of the most common injuries in the country, and nearly 2 million people suffer sprains each year.

Symptoms of a broken ankle

An ankle fracture is an injury to the bones in your ankle. Pressure or trauma makes one or more bones crack or break. Broken ankles cause symptoms like:

If you have a broken ankle, the pain generally feels worse in the hard parts of the joint. If it’s a sprain, the pain may be worse in the soft parts.

Diagnosing and treating your ankle injury

Since the symptoms of a sprained ankle and a broken ankle are similar, it’s not easy to diagnose your injury on your own, and you shouldn’t try to. If you suffer an ankle injury, schedule a podiatrist appointment to get professional care.

Dr. Butts examines your ankle and asks about your injury and symptoms. He may be able to diagnose mild sprains with a physical exam alone. If not, he orders X-rays to determine if you have a fracture or a severe sprain.

For mild sprains, Dr. Butts usually prescribes the RICE method: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. He gives you gentle stretches and exercises to do at home, and he may want you to wear an ankle brace or boot for a period of time.

Severe sprains also benefit from the RICE method and over-the-counter pain medication. These sprains generally require a walking boot for 4-6 weeks, along with physical therapy to support healing.

Fractures take longer to heal than sprains. Dr. Butts realigns your ankle bones, then fits you with a cast, brace, or walking boot to hold them in place while you heal. Sometimes, surgery is required to reset the bones.

When your ankle hurts, don’t wait for it to improve on its own. Contact Performance Footcare PC to find out what’s causing your pain and get a treatment plan that helps you heal faster.

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