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 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’s difficult to tell the difference between an ankle sprain and an ankle fracture. It’s 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 very similar and include:

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

It’s most likely a sprained ankle if

If you can put weight on your ankle after the injury and you’re 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 doesn’t 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’s 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 can’t 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 xray. Many people assume that if you can put weight on the ankle then it isn’t broken, however, it is possible to walk on a broken ankle, particularly with a less severe fracture. If you’re concerned your ankle may be broken, we recommend contacting your doctor, who can conduct an examination or order and xray if necessary.