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Difference Between Broken or Sprained Ankle You’re out running and you step somewhere awkwardly - it could be the edge of a curb, a pothole, or a crack in the ground. Now you’re on the ground and one of your ankles is throbbing. Hopefully, you’re with someone or there are people nearby since putting any pressure on the foot is nearly impossible.


It can be very difficult to tell the difference between the two without seeing a doctor. There are some basic rules of thumb to go by, though. This is not to be taken as medical advice.

Here are some of the differences between an ankle sprain and an ankle fracture. 


Ankle Sprain

An ankle sprain is when you do damage to your ankle ligaments. The area will swell. You’ve either stretched or torn a ligament. There will be pain and you can’t put your foot on the ground without it hurting. The best thing you can do is the RICE treatment:

Rest - Your body needs to heal. Stay off your feet for at least the rest of the day.

Ice - Put ice on the area for 20 minutes at a time. 20 minutes on. 20 minutes off. 

Compression - Put an ace bandage on the foot. This will help reduce swelling

Elevate - Put several pillows under your feet.


Ankle Fracture 

There will be a lot of pain. It can be hard to tell, though, since unless there’s a clean break and something is protruding, an X-ray will be necessary to determine the extent of the injury. 

Another possible thing that can occur is you will likely hear a popping sound when the injury occurs. That doesn’t happen with a sprain.

You can look for some other signs like

Deformity - There will be swelling in either case, but this goes beyond the norm. Also, it will just look… odd.


Pale skin around injured area

Numbness - This is a big one since a sprain tends to be constant throbbing, but the fracture can cause numbness after the initial pain.

• In either case, it’s best to see a doctor, preferably an orthopedic surgeon. They can examine the foot and if there is a fracture, take the necessary steps to ensure that the foot is immobilized and perform surgery if the bones are not aligning properly.

If you have an ankle sprain, depending on the severity and how fast you do the RICE treatment, you can be on your feet again in a matter of days. Ankle fractures can require a lot longer recovery time, like weeks or even a month or more before you can resume your normal fitness activities like running. 

Dr. John J Hickey is a podiatrist and he can help patients who have recovered from either an ankle sprain or a fracture find the best shoes to provide both comfort and stability to help prevent this situation from occurring again.