How to Tell an Ankle Sprain from a Break
Ankle breaks and ankle sprains can easily be confused with one another. A break is a fracture of one of the bones that make up the ankle joint, usually the bone on the outer aspect of the ankle called the fibula. A sprain, on the other hand, is a tear of one or more of the six ligaments that support the bones of the ankle. Because it’s not always easy distinguishing a sprain from a fracture on physical exam, X-rays can help medical providers confirm the diagnosis.
Is it an Ankle Sprain or a Break?
The following clues can help you asses the severity of an ankle injury.
1. Telltale noises: Often patients report hearing a cracking noise in the event of a fracture. Hearing a popping sound is common with ankle sprain injuries.
2. Physical deformity: While swelling can occur with both types of injuries, a lumpy or crooked appearing joint usually indicates a break.
3. Numbness: Experiencing numbness in the foot or ankle area is more common in ankle fractures compared to ankle sprains.
4. Pain: Although pain occurs with both breaks and sprains, the pain of a fracture is more intense and typically persists for hours or days after the injury.
5. Mobility: If you are able to move your foot at the ankle despite the pain, an ankle sprain is more likely. Loss of significant movement at the ankle is suspicious for fracture.
6. Try to Stand: If you can’t bear any weight on an injured ankle, a fracture should be ruled out by a medical provider.
When to Seek Treatment
If you’ve suffered an ankle injury you believe to a sprain, use rest, ice, compression, and elevation to alleviate symptoms. If your pains persist or intensify, or if your mobility is significantly impaired, it’s important to seek medical attention to rule out an ankle fracture.
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