Is Your Ankle Sprained or Fractured? Here’s How to Tell.

No matter how they happen, ankle injuries can be very painful. They can also be slow to heal due to their location. Because of this, it’s important to know which specific injury you have so it can be properly treated from the onset. How can you tell the difference between an ankle sprain and a fracture?

Ankle sprain ankle fracture injuries

What is an ankle sprain?

An ankle sprain is a ligament injury that occurs when the ligament is stretched or twisted into an awkward position, like stepping in a hole or missing a step. The ankle is the most common location for a sprain, and the severity ranges from Grade 1, which includes only a light stretch or tear, to Grade 3, which is a complete tear that may require a cast or even surgery.

Treatments for a sprained ankle

Sprains include bruising, swelling, tenderness, pain with walking, and sometimes the inability to walk at all. Immediately after the injury, use the RICE method — rest, ice, compression and elevation — along with anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and swelling. Try to keep your ankle above your chest as much as possible for at least 48 hours, and use ice in 15-20 minute intervals several times a day.

Sprains may seem minor, but if left undiagnosed and untreated they may end up leading to more serious complications and long-term issues such as arthritis. It's always a good idea to have your injury checked out by a doctor, especially if your ankle is still very swollen after 24 hours, misshapen, or if it hurts when you press on the bony part of your ankle.

What is a fracture?

A fracture is the same thing as a "break." Much like sprains, breaks can vary — from hairline fractures that only involve one bone to multiple, compound fractures that keep you off your foot for months. Like sprains, fractures usually happen because of extreme force on the bone, either from a fall, auto accident, or other acute-force trauma.

How can you tell the difference between a sprain and a fracture?

It's very hard to determine whether your ankle is badly sprained or fractured. Many times, a fracture causes the complete inability to bear weight, or move the ankle or toes. However, it can also feel and look very much like a Grade 3 sprain, so it’s important to see a doctor for the correct diagnosis. Treatment options usually involve casting, booting, and sometimes surgery.


While these are some of the most common ankle injuries, there may be other reasons you’re experiencing pain. Trust the team of experts at Alexander Orthopedics to determine the cause of your pain and get you back on your feet as quickly as possible.