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Understanding the Difference between a Sprained and Broken Ankle

Are you wondering what the difference between a sprained and broken ankle is? If you think you might have injured your ankle, understanding the differences between the two can help you decide whether self-care will suffice or whether you need to seek medical attention right away.

In this blog post, we'll discuss the differences between a sprained and broken ankle, how to identify the type of injury you may have, and the best medical treatment options for each. Read on to get an expert understanding of what to look out for and how best to care for a sprained or broken ankle.

What are the most common ankle injuries?

Ankle injuries are among the most common injuries, particularly among athletic individuals who participate in activities such as running, soccer, and basketball, representing 15% of all injuries reported among college athletes. Understanding the most common ankle injuries is an important part of preventing and properly treating them.

  1. Sprained ankle

This type of ankle injury occurs when the ligaments are stretched, partially torn, or completely ruptured. Symptoms of a sprain include pain, swelling, and sometimes bruising or difficulty walking.

  1. Broken ankle

An ankle fracture is a break in one or more of the bones that make up the ankle joint. Symptoms include pain, swelling, and an inability to bear weight on the affected ankle.

  1. Tendinitis

Tendinitis is a painful condition caused by inflammation of the tendons. It could be caused by overuse or an injury to the joint. Symptoms include pain, swelling, and stiffness, as well as difficulty walking or standing on the affected ankle.

It is important to seek medical attention from a foot and ankle doctor any time an ankle injury is suspected. Proper diagnosis and treatment can help reduce the risk of long-term complications and ensure that the ankle can return to full strength and mobility. By understanding the most common ankle injuries, individuals can take steps to prevent and better manage them.

How can I tell if my ankle is broken or just sprained?

If you think you may have a broken ankle, you're likely wondering how you can tell if it's broken or just sprained. It's important to determine this as soon as possible so you can get the proper treatment.

Here's what you should know to help you differentiate between a broken ankle and a sprained one:

Sprain ankle

Broken ankle

Signs and symptoms

  1. Pain in your ankle

  2. Swelling and bruising from the ankle to the lower leg

  3. Difficulty with weight bearing on the affected ankle

  4. Tenderness in the ankle, heel, and surrounding areas

  5. Limited movement of the ankle

  6. Warm sensation in the ankle

  7. Redness and inflammation

  8. Sensitivity to the area when touched

  1. Swelling around the ankle area

  2. Bruising on the skin

  3. Severe pain in the ankle during movement

  4. Inability to bear weight on the affected ankle

  5. Popping or crunching sensation when the ankle is moved

  6. Difficulty standing or walking

  7. Tenderness to the touch

  8. Ankle joints appear misshapen or deformed

  9. Tingling or numbness in the ankle area


First, look for signs of swelling, bruising, or tenderness around the ankle. Check if the ankle joint has a decreased range of motion.

Avoid walking on the injured ankle. If the ankle pain is overly severe, seek immediate medical attention. It's important to get a proper diagnosis for a more effective treatment plan.

Diagnosing a broken ankle may require X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans. A physician may also conduct physical exams to feel and observe the affected joint for swelling, tenderness, and deformities.


To treat a sprained ankle, it is important to start by elevating the ankle and reducing the inflammation by using an ice pack. Then, bandage it up to add compression and keep it immobilized. Taking anti-inflammatory medications is also helpful in reducing pain and swelling.

Afterward, it is important to begin range-of-motion exercises to regain strength and mobility. With the right care and simple tips, you can heal your sprained ankle and quickly get back to doing the things you love.

To treat a broken ankle, it is important to wear a cast or splint to keep the injury immobilized. Ice packs should be applied to the affected area to reduce swelling and help control the pain. Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be taken to help alleviate pain and discomfort.

Elevation of the ankle can also help with healing and reduce inflammation. It is important to avoid any activity that could further aggravate the injury or cause additional damage. Seek medical attention to make sure the injury has been properly treated, and doctors can also provide advice on how to best speed up the recovery process.

Tips to prevent an ankle injury

We all love to hit the slopes or take a scenic nature walk, but our ankles are a vulnerable part of our body. A sprained or broken ankle is one of the most common and painful injuries that can occur after a slip, trip, or some other form of trauma. Thankfully, there are many easy steps you can take to help prevent a sprained or broken ankle.

  • Wear proper footwear

When walking on uneven terrain, it is important to wear shoes that provide ankle support and traction. Shoes with good arch support and rigid soles with treads help support your ankles when walking on slick or cushiony surfaces. If engaging in activities that require special shoes, make sure to wear shoes that are designed to provide added ankle support and flexibility.

  • Strengthen the supporting muscles

The more agile and strong the muscles surrounding your ankle are, the more protected they are from sprains and fractures. The best way to do this is with exercises like standing calf raises and standing calf stretches. Incorporating these activities into a regular stretching and exercise routine can help protect your ankles from suffering an injury.

  • Use the proper techniques

When skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, or hiking, make sure you are using proper techniques. Gently step down on the terrain and avoid skidding, bouncing, or jumping. It is also important to pay attention to the speed you are going as well as the terrain, so as to not lose grip on the ground and to avoid collisions with other people or obstacles.

  • Use ankle supports

If you are particularly prone to ankle injuries then you can take extra precautions by wearing an ankle brace or support. Ankle supports are designed to provide additional stability and limit the motion of the ankle joint to help prevent sprains or fractures.

By taking these preventive measures, you can help decrease your risk of suffering an injury to your ankle. Always remember to take safety measures to help protect your ankles and lower legs from sprains or fractures.

Get the highest-quality care for your sprained or broken ankle

Are you experiencing pain in your ankle and need assistance determining if it is sprained or broken? At Pinnacle Orthopaedics, our skilled and experienced team of orthopaedic & sports medicine doctors is here to help! We offer comprehensive rehabilitation services tailored to your needs, so you can have the best possible outcome and get back to living without worry.

For immediate medical care, you can visit our orthopaedic urgent care clinic or one of our clinics near you:

Get the medical attention you need today! Contact Pinnacle Orthopaedics and book an appointment here.


The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.