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3 Ways to Tell if You Have a Sprained or Broken Ankle

When you’re moving just fine and then you step the wrong way, you may feel pain in your foot or ankle. Right away, you’ll know something is wrong. But it may be harder to tell if you’ve sprained or broken your ankle, or simply experiencing a little discomfort.

diagnosing a broken ankle

Photo by Otto Norin on Unsplash

That makes a lot of sense, when you consider that your ankle contains tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bones. Which means that a lot can get wrong when you put pressure on the area. So, to help you determine what kind of ankle injury you may have suffered, we’ll break down the differences between ankle sprains and ankle fractures.

And remember, no matter what your injury—or which treatment you may require—our team of Spring TX podiatrists is here to help. That was the case for our patient Betty F., who recently shared:

Dr. Amy Walsh and the staff at Louetta Foot and Ankle Specialists were great. They were friendly, efficient and professional. I was able to get an appointment quickly. Dr. Walsh identified the problem quickly, and I was scheduled for surgery in just a few days! Thank you all.”

Sprains, Strains and Fractures: How to Tell the Difference

If you sprain your ankle, that means you’ve stretched or torn its tendons or ligaments. (If you stretch or tear your muscle, we call this a strained ankle injury.)  This kind of injury usually happens if you twist your ankle too far, often as part of a sports injury or a misstep.

With a sprained ankle, you may notice:

  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Less strength or stability at the injury site


Now, if we diagnose you with a broken ankle (which we can do using our in-office X-ray machine), that means you’ve cracked or split your ankle bone. In some cases, you may fracture and sprain your ankle in the same injury. But, even with a solo ankle fracture, your experience may be similar to symptoms of ankle sprains.

So, how can you tell if your injury is a fracture, not a sprain? The only way to be certain is with a diagnostic x-ray. But if you notice symptoms such as localized pain, difficulties with movement, and extreme difficulty bearing weight, you may have broken your ankle bone.

Remember, you may still be able to walk on a sprained or broken ankle. So walking off an injury doesn’t mean you’re safe from permanent damage. Because the only way to heal safely is to seek treatment at our Spring or Tomball, TX podiatry practice.  But, to review, you can tell a sprain from a fracture by:

  1. Limits on range of motion
  2. Difficulty bearing weight
  3. Diagnostic x-ray

Treating Sprained and Broken Ankles

How we treat your ankle injury will depend on your diagnosis. If you’ve sprained your ankle, we’ll recommend rest. Then, we’ll likely wrap the injury and suggest icing. If needed, we may also suggest NSAIDs, to relieve pain and swelling.  In some cases, you may need a walking boot to help you stay mobile while keeping weight off your injured ankle. And we can also provide those in our office, so you can enjoy one-stop care for your ankle injury.

If your x-rays show a broken ankle, you may need a cast or walking boot. Also, if your break is displaced or unstable, you may need surgery to make sure you recover properly. Luckily, our skilled foot and ankle surgeons will prepare you for every step of the surgery process. Then, after your procedure, we can connect you with our in-office physical rehabilitation, to help support your full recovery.

We know that dealing with ankle injuries and surgery is stressful. That’s true for everyone, from active inf individuals to pro athletes such as the New York Giants‘ star running back Saquon Barkley, who recently complained after suffering a sprained ankle and getting sidelined, “It sucks. As a competitor, you want to be out there, and you go back and look at film every game whether you play in it or you don’t.”

That’s why our entire Louetta team is here to support you through the process every step of the way. From in-house diagnostics that let you skip the ER, to casting, walking boots or surgery and post-op physical rehabilitation, we will get you back on your feet after a sprained or broken ankle. All you have to do is make an appointment today. Then, we’ll take care of the rest!