If you have ever injured your ankle, you know that feeling where one moment you are running or walking just fine and the next, you’re in pain and unable to walk. Rolling your ankle happens in a matter of seconds, and the results of such an injury can range from a mild sprain to a break. Both injuries are painful and require some time to recover but knowing which one you have sustained is important for seeking help and recovery.

What is a Sprain?

A sprain occurs when you take a misstep and damage the ligaments in your ankle. Your ligaments are the bands that hold you bones in place and stabilize your joints. While ligaments are stretchy in nature, they can only stretch to a point. When you sprain your ankle, you have either stretched or torn your ligament beyond its limits.

What is an Ankle Fracture?

There are three bones in your ankle, and a fracture occurs when you break at least one of them. The more bones that are broken, the more severe the pain will be. In fact, if you suffer a break in just one, you might not realize that you have indeed fractured a bone. If you have broken more than one, you will lose stability in your ankle and not be able to walk. In some cases, a break will also lead to ligament damage.

How Can I Tell the Difference?

Sprain Break
Often there is a popping sound associated with severe sprains You might hear a cracking noise
Swelling and pain Swelling and tingling/numbness
Pain or tenderness in the soft part of your ankle Pain directly over your ankle bone
Ankle appears swollen but in alignment Ankle looks out of alignment

In both cases, we suggest seeking medical attention to assure that the diagnosis is correct.

Typical Treatment Protocol

Sprain Break
Take an anti-inflammatory drug such as Advil or Aleve. Seek medical attention immediately as the ankle will need to be reset and immobilized.
RICE method, rest, ice, compression with ace bandage, elevate the ankle above the heart.
In some cases physical therapy or even surgery

Please note that in both cases, the ankle will be unstable even after it has healed and you may need to take extra caution to assure that further sprains do not occur.

An acute injury, is never a fun experience, but being armed with the tools to promote healing the fastest is the best way to assure a speedy recovery.