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

August 16, 2019

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.

Strained Ankle

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. Common symptoms include muscle spasms, pain, swelling and loss of full range of motion. 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, seek medical attention.

Sprained Ankle

A sprained ankle occurs when ligaments are overstretched or torn. This can be the result of an accident, overexertion or prolonged repetitive motion. Like a strain, symptoms of a sprain include pain, swelling and limited flexibility. The big difference between the two 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.

If symptoms do not resolve after a few days, seek medical attention.

Broken Ankle

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 treatment that works with your schedule!


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