Ankle Pain: Is It a Sprain or Fracture?

Date: Dec 2, 2022

It’s happened to all of us. You’re walking along and then one tiny misstep leads to ankle pain. Whether you were hurt while exercising, playing a sport, or just being “less than graceful,” you’re in pain and wondering just how bad your injury is. Could it be sprained or fractured?

How to Tell a Sprain from a Fracture

A sprain means you’ve stretched or torn a ligament, while a fracture means you’ve broken a bone. Both can be very painful. So how do you know which type of injury you have? Asking yourself these questions can help:

  • Do you have pain around the soft tissue areas, but not over the bone? If so, it’s likely a sprain.
  • Do you have pain over the ankle bone? Are you unable to walk on it? If that’s the case, you probably have a fracture.

When to See a Doctor for an Ankle Injury

Sometimes, you’re just not sure how serious an ankle injury is. If you’re not sure it’s serious enough to see a doctor, watch it for two to four days and use the RICE method:

  • Rest. Try to stay off your ankle as much as possible.
  • Ice. Use an ice pack several times a day, 20 minutes on and at least 20 minutes off.
  • Compression. Use an elastic bandage or walking brace/splint (available at your local drugstore) to stabilize it.
  • Elevate. Rest your foot at, or above, the level of your heart as much as possible.

It’s important to not push through the pain. Putting too much stress on an already injured ankle can lead to bigger problems, like arthritis or extensive ligament damage that can cause ongoing ankle weakness.

It’s time to see a doctor if, after two to four days of the RICE protocol, you still have:

  • Bruising or blisters
  • Difficulty putting weight on your foot
  • Significant pain

Get Diagnosed and Treated for Ankle Pain

An X-ray can show if you’ve broken a bone and an MRI can tell if you’ve torn a ligament. Most ankle sprains can be treated without surgery, but some fractures need surgery depending on how severe they are. If a fracture does require surgery, your doctor may use a plate and screws on the side of the bone, or a screw or rod inside the bone. These are used to realign the bone fragments and stabilize them as they heal in a more appropriate and stable position.

In most cases, sprains can be treated with bracing and physical therapy. Physical therapy is often recommended to help strengthen the ankle to avoid arthritis or chronic ankle instability. Occasionally, a sprain needs surgical intervention to repair issues that may cause chronic ankle instability if a more conservative treatment hasn’t solved the problem.

Specialized, Proven Care for Foot and Ankle Conditions

Your feet and ankles are the daily bearers of your body’s full weight. And sometimes, the tremendous demands we put on our feet are more than they can bear – from Achilles tendon tears and ankle sprains to arthritis in your joints. Recent advances in foot and ankle surgery have greatly enhanced Emory Healthcare’s ability to treat these problems.

The Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center is a one-stop shop for the diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of all problems of the foot and ankle, with both surgical and non-surgical treatment provided by some of the nation’s foremost specialists in foot and ankle orthopedics.

About Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center

At the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center, our orthopedic specialists are experts at diagnosing and treating foot and ankle injuries. Schedule an appointment to see an Emory specialist today. Call 678-506-7132 or complete our online appointment request form.

Schedule your appointment today.

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