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Ankle Sprain or Ankle Fracture: How To Tell The Difference

At one time or another, just about everyone has injured their ankle.  Whether you were going for a hike and stepped on uneven ground or you were playing basketball and rolled your ankle, the end result can be a painful ankle injury.   If you’ve experienced anything like this you may have asked yourself: What do I do now?  Is it broken?

The ankle is a very commonly injured joint.  Both ankle sprains and fractures are painful and require medical attention and rest so they can heal.  However, being able to tell the difference between the two will help you seek out the appropriate care in a timely fashion.  Here are some tips for differentiating between an ankle sprain and a fracture.

Definitions:  Combining the definition of each with the nature of the injury can often give you a hint as to what type of injury you are looking at.

    Sprain = injury to a ligament surrounding a joint.  Often caused by tearing or stretching of the ligament.

    Fracture = a break in the continuity of bone.  Often caused by high force impact or stress on the bone.

Sound:  The sound made at the time of injury is a good predictor of whether it is a sprain or a fracture.  A sprain often makes a distinct popping sound whereas a fracture makes more of a grinding sound.

Appearance:  Look for swelling, bruising and redness around the ankle.  Although these aren’t definitive, they are encountered more often with an ankle sprain than a fracture.  Fractures may present with some of the characteristics mentioned above, but also often appear lumpy.

Pain:  If you are experiencing constant pain after your injury chances are you have a fracture.  Being unable to walk more than four steps without excruciating pain is a sign of a broken bone.  Sprains are painful too, but often cause ‘reactionary pain’ (pain that is relieved by relieving the pressure) and limping.

Treatment:  Both sprains and fractures will take time to heal.  The best thing you can do is R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression, elevation).   If you suspect an ankle fracture or your ankle isn’t improving with at home treatment, make an appointment with your podiatrist immediately.  After all, not all sprains/fractures present the same way and only your podiatrist can definitively tell the difference.

If you or someone you know has an ankle issue, consider making an appointment with Dr. Jay C. Larson with Sole Foot and Ankle Specialists in Glendale, Arizona.  We want to make sure you are back on both feet!



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