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Ankle Sprain vs. Broken Ankle: How to Tell the Difference

May 20, 2019
person holding their ankle

Ankle injuries are among the most common of the bone and joint injuries. Sprained and broken ankles are both painful injuries, and they often occur after similar types of activities. Typically, both ankle sprains and breaks occur when the ankle is stressed at an angle. Determining if an ankle injury between a sprain or broken can be difficult, especially in cases when a sprain is severe. Ultimately, the best way to diagnose an ankle injury is an x-ray.

What is the difference between a sprained ankle and a broken ankle?

The difference between a broken ankle and a sprained ankle is that a fracture or break in the bone is necessary to have a broken ankle. Any crack, break, or chip in the anklebone is considered a fractured ankle. A sprained ankle is an injury where there is tear or disruption of the ligaments.

It’s likely a sprain if:

  • If you can stand and put weight on your ankle, immediately after an injury and several hours later
  • If you don't have significant pain
  • If you have minimal or no swelling, however, swelling and bruising can occur with moderate and severe sprains
  • Unless severe, ankle sprains should start to improve after a few days with RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation)

It’s likely a break if:

  • You're unable to walk immediately after the injury or later that day
  • You experience moderate to severe pain when applying pressure
  • Swelling and bruising are immediately obvious

When to seek medical attention:

Seek immediate medical attention if your ankle appears deformed, you’re in severe pain or if you are unable to walk. If swelling and pain from an injury originally thought to be a sprain are not starting to improve after a few days, visit your local CareWell to get an x-ray for an official diagnosis.

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