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Richardson Podiatry Center

The Big Question: Is it Sprained or Broken?

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There are some questions you have to ask, even if you know you don’t really want the answer. Questions like, “What’s that smell?” or “How much will this cost?”

Another such question that can pop up unexpectedly is “What did I just do to my ankle?”

An ankle injury is never easy to see coming. You could be on a jog, charging down a field, or simply walking down the sidewalk. Suddenly, something hits you, something snags your foot, or you set down on something unstable—and you end up on the ground clutching your ankle in pain.

In such situations, there are two likely results: an ankle sprain or a broken ankle. Determining which one is the case can be tricky for a layperson at times, since they can share similar symptoms—such as hurting. A lot.

So, if you ever find yourself wondering whether you have an ankle sprain or an ankle fracture, let us first say we’re sorry for your misfortune. Again, it’s a question nobody wants to ask.

And, while we will provide some tips to help you make the call, we also don’t think it’s something you necessarily need to find the answer to yourself. Why’s that?

All Bad Ankle Injuries Need Care

Whenever you injure your ankle, there is always a risk of complications should it not heal properly. And if you have injured yourself so much as to have trouble telling whether it’s a sprain or a fracture, you can imagine those risks of complication are higher.

In any situation where you have extreme ankle pain, one of the first things you should do is let us know about it! Tell us what happened, in as much detail as you can recall, and we can instruct you on what you should do at the moment and/or get you in for an evaluation as soon as possible.

Even when an injury doesn’t seem that bad, it is still worth contacting us about it. The trickiness with ankle injuries is that, even if a sprain is mild, it can still lead to problems down the line if it doesn’t heal properly. The ankle may lose stability, making a future injury more likely, which causes even more instability that can … you get the picture.

By knowing your full history of ankle injuries, we can be more aware of potential problems and start addressing them before they become deeper problems. So please, do not be afraid to give us a call whenever you experience a problem.

Differences Between Ankle Sprains and Ankle Fractures

To understand the differences between a sprain and a fracture, we should fully establish what each injury is.

A sprain is an injury to the ligaments surrounding a joint. Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that help hold the structure in place and keep it stable. Given the range of motion the ankle is capable of, there are multiple ligaments there to do the job.

When the ankle is extended beyond its normal range in any direction, these ligaments can become strained or even torn.   

An ankle fracture, naturally, is a break of a bone in the ankle. There are three main bones this might include: the tibia, the fibula, and the talus. And, among these bones, different kinds of breaks can happen.

Both injuries can be very painful, but here are certain signs you can look for that may indicate one type of condition over the other:

  • Look for changes in the shape of the ankle. Swelling will be common in both injuries, but be on the lookout for bulges or shapes that are not consistent with swelling. This indicates that a fracture is more likely.
  • Locate the pain. Where the pain centers can point toward the type of injury. A fracture tends to hurt directly over the hard, bony part of the ankle. A sprain, on the other hand, will radiate pain in the softer part of the ankle.
  • Are there other sensations? Pain will be the primary sensation with a sprain. A fracture, however, can often be accompanied by a tingling or numbness as well.
  • Did you hear anything? You aren’t always keeping your ears open when you’re taking a hard fall toward the ground, but hearing a “pop” sort of noise is more consistent with a sprain. A “crack” is more consistent with a fracture.

Remember that determining what is wrong on your own is not as important as getting help for it. Do not test in any way that might injure you further—especially trying to walk on the injury!

Your first step for any type of ankle injury is to stop whatever you may have been doing at the time and get weight off the affected area. Then, contact us for additional instruction. This may often include resting your ankle, icing it regularly within the first 48 hours and keeping it elevated above the level of your heart. This all can help reduce pain and swelling.

Don’t Wait on Ankle Treatment!

The sooner you start addressing an ankle injury properly—whether it’s a break or a sprain—the better your long-term outlook will be.

 Call our Richardson office at (972) 690-5374 when you need help for foot or ankle problems that pop up in life. If you prefer to contact us electronically, please feel free to fill out our online contact form instead.

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