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Sprained Ankle vs. Broken Ankle: How to Tell the Difference

Sprained Ankle vs. Broken Ankle: How to Tell the Difference

Regardless of an athlete’s sport, activity level, and skill, ankle trauma is as close as one false step away. While some injuries — such as sprains — are often mild enough to return from in just a few days, others — such as fractures — can leave players sidelined for weeks to months. Therefore, quickly and correctly identifying a player’s ankle issue is essential to fully overcoming it.

Recognizing and Treating an Ankle Sprain

Inside each ankle are groups of tissue, or ligaments, which hold the ankle joint in place. Such ligaments can easily become vulnerable to overstretching and tearing. Ankle sprains occur when these ligaments are twisted or turned to an abnormal position. Patients often report a popping sound at the time of injury. However, after an ankle sprain, patients may experience symptoms including:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Limited mobility
  • Pain

When performing a physical examination to measure mobility and tenderness, specialists may determine if the injury is an ankle sprain. Fortunately, treatment options for an ankle sprain are largely limited to over-the-counter pain relievers and rest. In cases of more severe sprains, an orthopaedist may recommend self-guided physical therapy exercises to gradually restore mobility. Notwithstanding, the majority of ankle sprain patients fully recover within a few days to a few weeks.

Recognizing and Treating an Ankle Fracture

Ankle fractures occur when one, two, or all three bones in the ankle break — either partially or fully. Unlike a sprain, ankle fractures typically produce a cracking or grinding sound, rather than a popping noise. Depending on the severity, symptoms of an ankle fracture may include:

  • Swelling or bone shifting
  • Numbness
  • Pain
  • Instability

If a specialist suspect a patient’s injury to be a fracture, they may order an X-ray or MRI to diagnose the condition. Recovering from an ankle fracture is not only more involved, but also a lengthier process — typically several weeks to months. After stabilizing the injury with a cast and crutches, or similar mobility device, specialists may eventually prescribe self-guided physical therapy exercises for patients to practice at home. Patients with fractures that don’t respond to conservative treatments may become candidates for minimally invasive arthroscopy or more extensive reconstructive procedures.

Orthopaedic Treatment in St. Augustine

If an ankle injury is keeping you from the game, visit the team at Orthopaedic Associates of St. Augustine. Our team of sports medicine specialists and orthopaedists combine comprehensive care with state-of-the-art arthroscopic technology to restore long-term mobility. Schedule your appointment today by filling out our online request form or calling 904-825-0540. 


Dr. McClone - Sports medicine doctor St. AugustineCasey McClone, MD
Board Certifications in Family Medicine and Sports Medicine. Dr. McClone specializes in treating musculoskeletal pain for patients of all ages with ultra-sound guided injections.


Sina Kasraeian, MD  
Board Certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery and has extensive training in arthroscopy and sports medicine reconstructive procedures.