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Sprained Ankle vs. Broken Ankle: A Comprehensive Guide

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Dr. Jameel - MBBS, MCPS (Family Med)

Dr. Jameel, a compassionate family physician, simplifies medical information through easy-to-understand blogs. His holistic approach promotes healthier living, and he's actively engaged in local health initiatives. Join him on your journey to better health.

Sprained Ankle vs. Broken Ankle

Understanding the difference between a sprained ankle and a broken ankle is important. Both injuries can be painful, but they need different treatments. In this article, we will explore “Sprained Ankle vs. Broken Ankle” to help you know what to look for and how to care for each type of injury.

Anatomy of the Ankle Joint

The ankle is a complex joint where the foot and leg meet. It is made up of bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. These parts work together to allow movement and provide stability.

Ankle anatomy

A. Bones of the Ankle

  • Tibia: The shinbone, which is the larger bone in the lower leg.
  • Fibula: The smaller bone in the lower leg, next to the tibia.
  • Talus: The bone that sits on top of the heel bone and forms the lower part of the ankle joint.

B. Ligaments of the Ankle

Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones to each other. The ankle has several important ligaments.

  • Medial Ligaments: Also called the deltoid ligament, located on the inner side of the ankle.
  • Lateral Ligaments: Found on the outer side of the ankle, including the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL), calcaneofibular ligament (CFL) and posterior talofibular ligament (PTFL).

C. Tendons of the Ankle

Tendons connect muscles to bones, allowing the ankle to move.

  • Achilles Tendon: The largest tendon, connecting the calf muscles to the heel bone.
  • Posterior Tibial Tendon: Helps support the arch of the foot.
  • Peroneal Tendons: Located on the outer side of the ankle, aiding in foot stability.

D. Muscles of the Ankle

Muscles around the ankle help in movement and stability.

  • Calf Muscles: Include the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. Calf muscles helps in walking, running, and jumping.
  • Anterior Tibial Muscle: It is located in the front of the lower leg and helps in lifting the foot.

The ankle’s structure allows it to support the body’s weight and enables various movements like walking, running and jumping. Proper care and strength of these components are essential for a healthy ankle.

What is a Sprained Ankle?

A sprained ankle happens when the ligaments around the ankle stretch too much or tear. Ligaments are like rubber bands that hold bones together. Sprains can happen from twisting your ankle.

1. Symptoms of a Sprained Ankle

  • Pain around the ankle
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Trouble walking
  • The ankle feels unstable

2. Causes of a Sprained Ankle

  • Walking on uneven surfaces
  • Jumping and landing awkwardly
  • Sudden twisting movements
  • Sports activities

What is a Broken Ankle?

A broken ankle means one or more of the bones in the ankle are cracked or broken. This injury is more serious than a sprain. Bones can break from a hard fall or a direct hit.

1. Symptoms of a Broken Ankle

  • Severe pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • The bone may stick out
  • Unable to walk or put weight on the ankle

2. Causes of a Broken Ankle

  • Falling from a height
  • Car accidents
  • Sports injuries
  • Twisting the ankle with great force

How to Tell the Difference?

Sometimes, it is hard to know if the ankle is sprained or broken. Both injuries cause pain and swelling. A doctor can help figure it out with an X-ray.

A. Signs It Might Be a Sprain

  • The pain is mostly around the ankle, not in the bone
  • You can put some weight on it
  • The ankle is not misshapen

B. Signs It Might Be a Break

  • The pain is severe and constant
  • The ankle looks deformed
  • You are unable to walk or move the foot
  • You heard a snap or crack at the time of injury

Sprained Ankle vs. Broken Ankle: A Comprehensive Comparison

Feature Sprained Ankle Broken Ankle
Definition Injury to the ligaments around the ankle Fracture or crack in one or more bones in the ankle
Pain Level Varies, often less severe Severe and constant
Swelling Common, but less intense Usually significant
Bruising Common Common
Mobility Some ability to move and bear weight Often unable to move or bear weight
Deformity Rare, ankle looks normal Possible visible deformity
Sound at Time of Injury May hear a popping sound May hear a snap or crack
Initial Treatment R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) Immobilization, ice, and immediate medical attention
Medical Intervention Often can be managed at home, doctor if severe Requires doctor visit, X-ray, possible cast or surgery
Recovery Time 1-2 weeks (mild), several months (severe) 6-8 weeks (minor), several months to a year (severe)
Long-term Care Physical therapy if needed Physical therapy and possible follow-up care

First Aid for a Sprained Ankle

If you think you have a sprained ankle, you can start treating it at home. The best way to remember what to do is the R.I.C.E. method.Treatment of Ankle sprain

A. R.I.C.E. Method

  • Rest: Do not walk on the injured ankle.
  • Ice: Put ice on the ankle for 20 minutes, several times a day.
  • Compression: Wrap the ankle with a bandage to reduce swelling.
  • Elevation: Keep the ankle raised above the heart level.

B. When to See a Doctor

  • The pain is very bad
  • The swelling does not go down
  • You cannot walk after a few days
  • There is no improvement in a week

First Aid for a Broken Ankle

A broken ankle needs quick medical attention. Here are steps to take if you think your ankle is broken.

A. Immediate Steps

  • Do not move the ankle: Keep it as still as possible.
  • Ice: Apply ice to reduce swelling, but do not put ice directly on the skin.
  • Elevate: Raise the ankle above the heart level.
  • Seek help: Go to the emergency room or call for an ambulance.

B. What the Doctor Will Do?Ankle injury pictures

  • X-ray: For assessment of bone fracture
  • Cast or Splint: To keep the bone in place while it heals
  • Surgery: Sometimes needed if the bone is badly broken

Recovery Time

Healing times for sprains and breaks can vary. Proper care and following the doctor’s advice help in better recovery.

A. Sprained Ankle Recovery

  • Mild sprains: 1-2 weeks
  • Moderate sprains: 3-4 weeks
  • Severe sprains: Several months

B. Broken Ankle Recovery

  • Minor fracture: 6-8 weeks
  • Severe fractures: Several months to an year

Preventing Ankle Injuries

There are ways to help prevent ankle injuries. Being careful and strengthening the muscles around the ankle can help. Following can be done to prevent ankle injuries:

  • Wear proper shoes: Shoes that fit well and give support.
  • Warm-up before activities: Stretch and prepare your body.
  • Watch your steps: Be careful on uneven surfaces.
  • Strengthen your ankles: Exercises to make the muscles strong.

When to Go Back to Activities?

It is important not to rush back to activities. Going back too soon can cause more damage. Listen to your body and your doctor. You can resume your activities in case of:

  • No more pain
  • No swelling
  • Full range of motion
  • Recommendation of doctor

FAQs on Sprained Ankle vs. Broken Ankle

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

A sprained ankle usually has pain, swelling, and some movement. A broken ankle causes severe pain, major swelling, no movement, and possible deformity. See a doctor for an X-ray to confirm.

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

For a sprained ankle, use R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). For a suspected broken ankle, keep it still, apply ice and get medical help immediately.

3. How long does it take to recover?

  • Sprained ankle: 1-2 weeks (mild), 3-4 weeks (moderate), several months (severe).
  • Broken ankle: 6-8 weeks (minor), several months to a year (severe).

4. Can I prevent ankle injuries?

Yes, wear proper shoes, warm up before activities, be careful on uneven surfaces and strengthen ankle muscles with exercises.

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The Bottom Line

Understanding the difference between a sprained ankle and a broken ankle helps in getting the right treatment. Always take ankle injuries seriously. If in doubt, see a doctor to make sure you get the right care. Proper treatment and rest are key to healing well.


Content on this site is written with thorough research and keeping in mind the latest guidelines. However, no content on this site should substitute professional consultation.


Picture of Dr. Jameel

Dr. Jameel

Dr Jameel is a practicing family physician. He writes easy to understand medical blogs to create health awareness and help people to live a healthier life.

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