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Sprained Ankle vs Broken Ankle: Check The Difference!

Ankles are vital joints that provide stability and support for our bodies during movement. However, they are also susceptible to injury, with sprains and breaks ...

by Kendra Reed

This article was created after thorough research and has been improved with the assistance of AI technology. Furthermore, our dedicated editorial team has meticulously fact-checked and polished its content for accuracy and clarity.

Ankles are vital joints that provide stability and support for our bodies during movement. However, they are also susceptible to injury, with sprains and breaks being common occurrences. Understanding the difference between a sprained ankle and a broken ankle is crucial for proper treatment and recovery.

In this guide, we’ll explore the key differences between a sprained ankle and a broken ankle, providing valuable insights into recognizing, understanding, and managing these injuries. By gaining clarity on these distinctions, individuals can make informed decisions about seeking medical attention, implementing appropriate first aid measures, and facilitating the healing process effectively. 

What Is A Sprained Ankle?

Sprained Ankle

A sprained ankle happens when the ligaments around the ankle joint stretch or tear from abrupt twisting or rolling of the foot, typically experienced during activities like running, jumping, or walking on uneven terrain. Indications of a sprained ankle comprise pain, swelling, bruising, and challenges in putting weight on the injured foot.

What is a broken ankle?

A broken ankle, also known as an ankle fracture, occurs when one or more of the bones in the ankle joint break or crack. This can happen from a fall, direct impact, or excessive force applied to the ankle. Symptoms of a broken ankle include severe pain, swelling, deformity, inability to bear weight, and sometimes a visible bone protrusion.

Difference between a sprained ankle vs broken ankle?

A sprained ankle is an injury to one or more of the ligaments that hold the ankle bones together. Ligaments are tough, fibrous bands that connect bones to bones and provide stability to the joint. A sprain occurs when these ligaments are stretched or torn, typically due to a sudden twisting or rolling motion of the ankle.

On the other hand, a broken ankle, also known as an ankle fracture, is a break or crack in one or more of the bones that make up the ankle joint. This can involve the tibia (shinbone), fibula (calf bone), or talus (one of the ankle bones). A broken ankle can result from high-impact trauma, such as a fall from a height or a severe twisting injury.

Signs and symptoms of sprained ankle

The severity of a sprained ankle can range from mild to severe, depending on the extent of ligament damage. Common symptoms of a sprained ankle include:

  1. Pain and tenderness around the ankle joint
  2. Swelling, often immediate and localized
  3. Bruising, which may appear hours or days after the injury
  4. Restricted movement and challenges with weight-bearing
  5. Feeling unstable or a sensation of the ankle potentially giving out

Signs and symptoms of broken ankle

A broken ankle typically presents with more severe symptoms than a sprain. These may include:

  1. Intense pain and swelling
  2. Bruising that appears rapidly and may extend up the leg
  3. Deformity or abnormal positioning of the ankle
  4. Inability to bear weight on the affected ankle
  5. Tenderness and pain when attempting to move the ankle

Treatment for a sprained ankle

The treatment for a sprained ankle primarily focuses on reducing inflammation, immobilizing the joint, and promoting healing. Common treatment approaches include:

  1. RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) therapy
  2. Non-prescription pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  3. Immobilization with an ankle brace or splint for mild to moderate sprains
  4. Crutches or a walker to prevent weight-bearing on the injured ankle
  5. Physical therapy exercises to restore strength, flexibility, and range of motion

Treatment for a broken ankle

The treatment for a broken ankle often involves more intensive interventions to stabilize the fracture and promote proper healing. Depending on the severity and location of the fracture, treatment may include:

  1. Immobilization with a cast or splint
  2. Surgery to realign and stabilize the broken bones, using plates, screws, or rods
  3. Elevation and ice application to reduce swelling
  4. Pain medication, including prescription-strength options
  5. Physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises after the initial healing phase


It is essential to seek prompt medical attention for any suspected ankle injury, as proper diagnosis and treatment can prevent further complications and ensure a successful recovery. While sprained ankles may resolve with rest and appropriate care, broken ankles often require more extensive treatment, such as surgery and prolonged immobilization, to achieve proper healing and restoration of function.

Understanding the differences between sprained and broken ankles is crucial for receiving the appropriate treatment and achieving a full recovery. Seeking medical evaluation and following the prescribed treatment plan can help minimize long-term complications and restore mobility and function to the affected ankle.

Frequently asked questions

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

It can be challenging to differentiate between a break and a sprain based solely on symptoms. However, a fracture typically causes immediate, sharp pain and may make it impossible to bear weight on the ankle. Conversely, a sprain might allow for some weight-bearing and the pain may develop more gradually. A definitive diagnosis requires medical evaluation, often including X-ray or MRI.

2. What should I do immediately after injuring my ankle?

Apply the R.I.C.E. method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) to reduce swelling and discomfort. Avoid putting weight on the injured ankle and seek medical attention promptly for proper evaluation and care.

3. Can I walk on a sprained ankle?

The extent to which you can walk on a sprained ankle hinges on how severe it is. While minor sprains might allow for walking with discomfort, it’s important to note that doing so could exacerbate the injury. Consulting a healthcare provider for an accurate assessment and treatment plan is recommended before resuming activity.

4. How long does it take for a sprained or broken ankle to heal?

The duration for healing varies based on the seriousness of the injury. Mild sprains may heal within a few weeks, while severe sprains could take several months. Broken ankles may require six to twelve weeks or longer for healing, depending on factors such as fracture complexity and treatment approach. Your doctor can provide a more specific timeline based on your individual situation.

5. When should I see a doctor for an ankle injury?

You should seek medical attention if you experience significant pain, swelling, bruising, or if you cannot bear weight on the ankle. Even if symptoms seem mild, a medical evaluation is important to prevent complications and ensure proper healing.


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