How to Tell If You Have a Strained, Sprained or Broken Ankle

August 16, 2019

Guide to Ankle Strains, Sprains, and Broken Ankles

Sometimes in life, we are just plain clumsy. While slips and falls often result in hurt pride, they can also leave you with more serious injuries such as strains, sprains, or breaks. When the injury occurs in a joint, like the ankle, it can be hard to tell how serious it is. The treatment process for a broken ankle differs from that of a sprain or strain, so it is important to determine which type of injury you are dealing with so that it can be properly treated.

While we never recommend self-diagnosis, it’s important to understand your symptoms because the severity of the injury can inform your decision about what type of treatment you should seek. Below we detail common signs and symptoms for strained, sprained, and broken ankles.

Common Ankle Strain Symptoms

Although it is the least severe of the three injuries, joint strains should be taken seriously if you want to avoid further injury. A strained ankle is the result of overstretched or torn muscles and tendons. When determining the difference between a strain and a sprain it’s important to remember a few key differences. It’s important to note that there are degrees of a joint strain, and symptoms vary by case. Your ankle may be strained if you have any of the following symptoms.


Pain is the most common symptom of any injury, and a strained ankle is no different. This pain may be immediate or increase gradually depending on the severity of the strain. Most of us use our ankles every day, and prolonged use can bring the pain of a strained ankle to the surface.

Inflammation, Swelling, or Redness

Swelling or discoloration at the site of the injury may be an indication of a strain. Additionally, a strained ankle may be warm to the touch. If you experience this symptom, ice your ankle and keep it elevated.

Muscle Cramps and Weakness

If you’ve strained your ankle, you might experience muscle cramps in your shins, calves, or feet. In some cases, you might not be able to do normal activities such as walking, running, or jumping without pain.

Loss of Motion

In the case of mild strains, your ankle may become stiff with pain, limiting your range of motion. In instances of severe joint strain the ankle can even go limp.

Common Ankle Sprain Symptoms

A sprained ankle occurs when ligaments are overstretched or torn. This can be the result of an accident, overexertion, or prolonged repetitive motion. The big difference between a strain and a sprain is the bruising that accompanies a sprain. Like a strain, a mild sprain can be treated with the RICE method. As long as you stay off the injured ankle and allow it to heal, you should recover quickly. Spraining your ankle can be painful. If you experience the following symptoms, you may have a sprained ankle.


A key symptom of a sprained ankle is pain. When the sprain occurs, the pain can be quite severe, with persistent localized pain at the ankle. Most people describe the pain as shooting or stabbing when pressure is applied via standing or other means.


As with a strain, swelling is a common symptom of an ankle sprain. Swelling is usually localized to the area that the sprain has occurred in. And similarly, it can be treated with ice and rest.


Bruising is the major difference between a sprain and a strain. When you sprain your ankle, ligaments and blood vessels tear, creating a bruise. The bruise won’t appear instantly but is a good indicator that you may have sprained your ankle.

Limited Range of Motion

A sprain can hinder your ability to walk or even put pressure on your ankle. If the sprain is severe enough, you might even lose range of motion in your ankle all together due to pain.


A pop may occur when you sprain your ankle. The sensation you’re feeling is the ligament in your ankle stretching and/or tearing.

How to Treat A Strained Ankle

As with a sprained ankle, the RICE method is the initial best course of action. If symptoms do not resolve after a few days, seek medical attention. Mild strains can be treated using the RICE technique, which includes:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

If pain and swelling do not go down after a few days, reach out to your doctor for a diagnosis. A strain left unchecked can cause further damage that may affect your ability to stand and walk later in life.

Broken Ankle Signs & Symptoms

A broken ankle is the most severe type of ankle injury and will need to be confirmed by a doctor using an x-ray. Signs your ankle is broken include pain, swelling and bruising, accompanied by pale skin, inability to move the toes, and numbness. A cast or boot is usually required to help heal a broken ankle, depending on which ankle bone is broken. Assuming surgery isn’t needed, you should be back to normal after 4–8 weeks.

Whether you have a strain, sprain, or break, ankle injuries hurt. The best way to treat your injury is to seek care as soon as possible. Check out our after hours and walk-in services to get the treatment that works with your schedule!




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