Know Your Pain: Ankle Sprain vs Fracture

Football on Thanksgiving is a decades-old tradition, and the Dallas Cowboys have played the big turkey game for years. Whether you’re a Cowboys fan or not, the afternoon game is a great way to relax and digest your big dinner. In football games, the risk for incurring ankle injuries is high—from sprains to breaks. An ankle sprain and an ankle fracture are two different, traumatic injuries that can impact the joint. Because they share a lot of similar symptoms and can develop the same way, though, they can be difficult to initially tell apart. The key is that one affects ligaments, while the other affects bones.

An ankle sprain is an over-stretched, or possibly torn, supporting ligament. You have many different ligaments that stabilize the ankle joint. Suddenly twisting the foot can stretch these tissue bands past their normal range, injuring them. This causes swelling, tenderness, weakness, and occasionally bruising that may make it difficult and painful to walk.

An ankle fracture is a break in one of the three bones making up the main joint: the talus, the end of the tibia, and the end of the fibula. This also causes significant swelling, tenderness, weakness, and bruising, which is why a sprain and a fracture are initially hard differentiate. With either injury, you may still be able to walk a little afterwards, too, so that isn’t the best indicator.

The only true way to tell is with diagnostic images that look for cracks in the bones, but there are a few symptoms that may hint at one more than the other. Rest your foot for a few hours without putting any weight on it. Ice it and wrap it in a compression bandage as well. If this helps improve the discomfort somewhat, it may be a sprain. Gently press on the top of the ankle and on the bony bumps on either side of the joint. If this causes a sharp pain, you may have a fracture.

Whether your injury is a sprain or a fracture, you should have the problem checked by an experienced specialist, like Dr. Darren Silvester at Next Step Foot & Ankle Clinic. That way your condition can be diagnosed accurately and properly managed, so you heal well. Don’t wait to seek help—contact our Universal City, TX, office by calling 210.375.3318 or by scheduling an appointment.