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Ankle sprain and fracture: How to Tell the Difference: Apple Podiatry Group: Podiatrists

How to Tell the Difference: Apple Podiatry Group: Podiatrists

You may think athletes are most vulnerable to ankle injuries, but anyone can experience an ankle sprain, strain, or fracture at this delicate joint. Just stepping off of a curb wrongly or walking on an uneven surface can cause an ankle sprain or fracture. 

If you’re among the estimated 1 million people who’ll injure their ankle this year, you may wonder how serious your injury is. Sprains and fractures are the most common types of ankle injuries, and both benefit from immediate medical care to ensure proper healing and long-term ankle health. All too often, though, people ignore an ankle injury — thinking “it’s just a mild sprain” — and set themselves up for long-term ankle instability.

At Apple Podiatry, Jarna Rathod-Bhatt, DPM and Rahul Bhatt, DPM are available to help you with all your foot and ankle injuries, including ankle fractures and sprains. If you’ve suffered an injury to your ankle, visit one of their offices in Arlington, Irving, or Fort Worth, Texas to get a diagnosis and treatment plan.  

Here are some of the symptoms our podiatrists look for when determining if the pain in your ankle is related to a broken bone or an injury to the ligaments.

The difference between a sprain and a fracture

You know your ankle hurts, but you can’t determine just from the pain whether you’ve injured the bones or soft tissue at the joint. A fracture and sprain both result from similar trauma incurred during a fall or awkward twist. 

A sprain involves a tear or other damage to ligaments, connective tissue that attaches bone to bone. A fracture is a break in one of the three main bones at your ankle joint. These include the talus, fibula, and tibia. 

Symptoms of a sprain versus a fracture

The symptoms of a sprain and fracture are similar and include swelling, bruising, and notable pain. You may have trouble putting weight on your injured foot. 

It’s difficult to determine if you have a sprain or a fracture without expert examination and imaging tests, like an X-ray or MRI. We here at Apple Podiatry can offer an accurate diagnosis to determine whether you have a sprain or fracture. 

When to suspect a sprain

While it’s best to head to our offices if you’ve injured your ankle, your injury is likely a sprain if you do maintain some ability to bear weight on it. The pain will be mild-to-moderate, and you should have some ankle instability. Swelling and bruising develops over the course of several hours or days.

When to suspect a fracture

If you’ve fractured your ankle, you’ll find it impossible to bear weight on it (though this is possible with some severe sprains). Pain will be moderate-to-severe, and you may experience some numbness in your foot and ankle. Your ankle may look deformed and develop swelling or bruising almost right away. 

Don’t just leave your ankle to heal on its own

Even if you think you have just a mild sprain, it’s important to seek medical care. Ankle fractures and sprains that aren’t treated correctly and allowed to heal on their own can lead to complications like long-term problems with your gait, recurrent ankle sprains, and serious ankle instability.  

Getting proper care for your ankle injury means you can get back to doing the activities you love safely and with confidence.

If you’ve suffered an ankle injury, call any of the offices of Apple Podiatry, or book your appointment online. We can guide your healing and long-term foot and ankle health.

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Ankle Sprain vs. Ankle Fracture

The ankle is a complex joint made up of multiple pieces working together to allow the foot to move. All these moving parts also make the ankle prone to injury. In fact, ankle sprains and fractures (breaks) are among the most common injuries for Americans, impacting millions each year. Often, these injuries are exercise or sports-related. Furthermore, simple falls, twists, or missteps are common causes of each. Both injuries may make it difficult to bear weight. They can each also result in bruising, swelling, and tenderness. In fact, the two injuries are so similar they are often mistaken for one another. So, how can you tell an ankle sprain from an ankle fracture? We’ll discuss this and more in the following post. Also, don’t miss our recent post about how to tell the difference between a sprained ankle and a rolled ankle.

First, we will explain what ankle sprains and ankle fractures are. Then, we’ll go over the differences between the two, including how they are treated. Finally, we’ll let you know when it’s time to see a doctor.

What is an ankle sprain?

An ankle sprain refers to damage to a ligament, which is the connective tissue between bones. The ligament can be partially or completely torn if an injury occurs. Often sprains are rated as a grade 1, 2, or 3 depending on how many ligaments are involved and whether those ligaments are stretched, partially torn, or completely torn.



What is an ankle fracture?

An ankle fracture refers to a break in a bone. The fracture can be a non-displaced crack in the bone, meaning the bone is still aligned, but can also be displaced resulting in a disruption in the normal alignment of the bone. Most often, a broken ankle is caused by a fall, car accidents, high-impact sports, or injuries where excessive force is involved.




How can you tell the difference between the two?

You now know an ankle sprain refers to damage to the ligament (fibrous tissue) between bones and an ankle fracture is an actual break in the bone. But with that information alone, it is still very difficult to determine which injury you’ve experienced. So, if you’re still asking, “Is my ankle sprained or broken?” try answering the following questions:

  • Did you hear something at the time of the injury? Most often, a sprain occurs silently, or maybe with a ‘pop’ sound in severe instances. You may hear a ‘crack’ with a fracture. Additionally, a fracture may cause a ‘grinding’ or ‘crunching’ sound upon movement following the injury.
  • Is the shape of your ankle crooked, warped, or irregular? Both fractures and sprains can cause swelling. But if the alignment of your ankle is off, it is most likely a break/fracture.
  • Are you numb in the affected area? Though sprains are typically very painful, fractures can often cause tingling or numbness. If numbness occurs, seek medical attention immediately, as a loss of blood flow can have significant, long-term effects and may require surgery.
  • If you’re in pain, where is the pain located? If your ankle hurts or is tender when you touch directly over your ankle bone, it is probably a fracture. However, if you’re experiencing pain in the softer part of the ankle, it’s more likely a sprain.

Importantly, ankle sprains and fractures are not mutually exclusive. So, it’s possible to experience both at the same time. In fact, sprain/fracture combinations are quite common. So, be sure to seek medical advice to ensure you receive a correct and complete diagnosis.

How is an ankle sprain treated?

A grade 2 or 3 sprain usually needs immobilization in the form of a boot or brace that can be worn inside a shoe. The goal is to reduce bruising and pain, so elevation and icing can be used in tandem to help reach this goal. As the ligament heals itself, the pain will gradually ease, and the patient should be able to resume regular activities. Additionally, physical therapy is used to regain muscle stability after the duration of the injury. Grade 1 sprains tend to resolve in one to two weeks, but grade 3 injuries can take up to twelve weeks to resume normal activities.

How is a broken ankle treated?

Fractures that are nondisplaced, or are still aligned with the other bones, will need a boot or cast to completely immobilize the ankle so that the healing goes as it should. This boot or cast will replace a shoe, rather than be worn inside of a shoe. If the break is displaced, meaning out of alignment, manipulation of the fracture and surgery may be necessary so that the bone realigns and heals properly. Characteristics of a fracture are what dictate the necessity of surgery. As the initial pain and swelling go down and healing has begun, physical therapy is used to regain range of motion and muscle loss during the duration of the injury. Most fractures will heal in six to eight weeks. Also, if the fracture involves the ankle joint, arthritis could develop in the future.

When should I consult a physician?

If you can bear weight on your ankle but the bruising and swelling persist longer than one to two weeks, consult a physician. Additionally, if you cannot bear weight on your ankle at all you should immediately consult your physician.

Dr. Roger Passmore is a board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon at Advanced Ortho and Spine. He provides a full spectrum of foot and ankle care. Contact us today for more information or to request an appointment. 





With two locations near Nashville in Mt. Juliet and Hermitage, Advanced Ortho and Spine provides patients with high-quality, personalized care. We also strive to advance orthopaedic excellence. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule your appointment.

This blog provides general information and discussions about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.

If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your healthcare provider or seek other professional medical treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something read on this blog or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or emergency services immediately.

The opinions and views expressed on this blog and website have no relation to those of any academic, hospital, health practice, or other institution.

How to distinguish a sprain from a fracture? – Article

When you suffer a serious injury – whether it’s a sprained ankle, a sprained muscle, or what you think might be a broken bone – it’s imperative that you properly diagnose the problem before returning to intense physical activity.

Sprain vs Fracture – What’s the difference?

Sprains and fractures can share many of the same symptoms, making it difficult to determine on your own which type of injury you have. However, the difference is quite simple: a fracture is a broken bone, while a sprain is a soft tissue injury. Symptoms such as pain, swelling, and inflammation are common among sprains and bone fractures. But there are key differences between these types of injuries.

Sprains occur when the ligaments that support various joints throughout the body are overstretched or torn. In severe cases, the ligaments are completely torn and can no longer properly support the joint. Sprains affect muscles and tendons and can be acute traumatic or chronic. Acute sprains occur when a muscle or tendon is stretched or overstretched. Chronic deformities occur due to overuse.

How are sprains treated?

The ultimate goal of treating a sprain is to relieve discomfort and reduce swelling at the site.

Rest the affected area as soon as you feel pain. You are advised to rest as much as possible, at least 48 hours. Do not try to endure the pain by continuing to engage in activities related to the affected area, as this may worsen and slow down the healing process.

Ice. Apply a cold compress to the affected area for about 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours. It is important not to apply the ice pack directly to the skin, as this can cause frostbite. Instead, wrap the ice pack in a towel. If you don’t have an ice pack, a bag of frozen peas or corn will do.

· Compression. Reduce swelling by wrapping the affected area with an elastic medical or cohesive bandage, kinesio tape. Don’t wrap the area too tight, as this can cut off blood flow. If you are not sure how to wrap the bandage properly, ask your doctor for help.

Elevation – Keep the injured area above the level of the heart to reduce pain and swelling. For example, if you have sprained your ankle, place your foot on the arm of the couch or on a pillow.

A fracture is a partial or complete fracture of a bone. While it can happen to anyone, older adults and those with lower bone density are at higher risk. The severity of a fracture depends on the degree of force that caused the fracture.

Fractures happen when a bone is crushed or broken. These injuries require immediate medical attention and can cause numbness and severe pain. Fractures most often result from some kind of injury, such as a car accident or a violent fall. When you break a bone in your body, one of the first symptoms you will notice is immediate pain around the injury. You may also experience:

  • Limb deformity
  • Crack or click during injury
  • Failure to lean on injury
  • Crepitus (crunching sound), which is a normal sign of a fracture caused by the ends of broken bones rubbing against each other. This causes an audible crunch.
  • Swelling and bruising

If the bone does not actually pierce the skin, you need an x-ray to determine that you have a broken bone. If the fracture is severe, you may also need an MRI or CT scan to rule out damage to other structures such as ligaments, tendons, and muscles.

Some common types of fractures are:

  • stress fracture (also known as hair fracture) – a small crack or break in a bone
  • comminuted fracture – the bone breaks into several pieces
  • compression fracture – the bone becomes wider or flattens due to compression
  • oblique fracture – diagonal fracture of bone

Treatment may include the use of a cast to stabilize the broken bone, or surgery to reposition broken bone segments and fix the area of ​​the fracture. By the way, instead of a plaster bandage, the use of polymer bandages has become very popular. Compared to a conventional plaster cast, the self-adhesive polymer bandage is 5 times lighter, due to its structure, the bandage does not interfere with air circulation and moisture exchange, and is also much thinner than a conventional plaster bandage.

Even though sprains and fractures are very different, they share many of the same symptoms, so it’s important to seek medical attention if you’re unsure about your injury.

While the only way to know for sure if you’re dealing with a sprain, strain, or broken bone is to consult a specialist, there are some signs that can help you tell the difference. We advise you to pay attention to some immediate symptoms:

1. Does the area look deformed? If a limb looks deformed or out of place after an injury, this is a good indicator of a broken bone or dislocation.

2. Can you bear the weight? If the injury is in the ankle, knee, arm, wrist, or other weight-bearing limb, see if you can put weight on it. If you can walk with soreness, it is unlikely that it is broken.

3. Is there significant swelling? If there is immediate and severe swelling in the injured area, it may be a sign of a broken bone or fracture. However, if the swelling is minor and develops gradually, it is probably a sprain or strain.

Although these are useful indicators, a fracture is possible without these symptoms. That is why, if you are experiencing severe pain, discomfort, swelling, or bruising, an accurate diagnosis is recommended. Because while rest is often the best medicine for mild to moderate sprains, severe sprain injuries may require surgery, bandages, physical therapy, or both. Fractures, on the other hand, require an immediate response, and it must be determined whether a cast, orthosis, surgery, or both may be required.

Thus, if you have been injured and your pain does not go away or is intense and sharp, you should see a healthcare professional for an evaluation. A physical exam and imaging studies can give you the correct diagnosis so you can begin your recovery process as soon as possible.

How to distinguish a sprain from a fracture?

Contents Hide

  1. How do you know if you have a sprain?
  2. What is a fracture?
  3. Treatment of sprains and fractures

Various ankle and ankle injuries are more than 50% of the reasons for visiting trauma centers in our country. The share of fractures and sprains in the sports industry from all patients is about 40%.

Sprain, bruise, fracture – all of these injuries can also cause:

  • muscle imbalance;
  • shoe defects;
  • problems with the nervous system;
  • banal negligence.

Depending on the type and nature of the damage, the prognosis for the restoration of mobility and return to normal life can vary greatly. But, each person should know how to distinguish a fracture from a sprain. Therefore, we will deal with these topics in more detail.

How to identify and localize a sprain?

How do you know if you’ve got a sprain?

Ligaments – some strips of strong connective tissue, thanks to which the bones are fixed to each other in the joint capsules (of course, the ligaments also perform a lot of other functions, but they are not related to the topic of our article).

If, after an injury, the bones in the joint capsule diverge relative to each other (for example, they sharply change the angle), the ligaments may tear, as they are not designed for such loads. But these tears are microscopic, so the situation is called “stretching of the ligaments.”

The ankle is most susceptible to sprains, but other parts of the body can also be injured during, for example, a fall:

  • knee;
  • wrist;
  • neck.

Unpleasant consequences of a sprain

The most frustrating thing about this situation is that it is very easy to confuse a sprain with a more serious injury, which may even provoke future disability. Therefore, after any injury, it is better to consult a doctor as soon as possible.

To understand that you have a sprain, you need to listen to your body – it will signal a problem with the following symptoms:

  1. So, you fell (unsuccessfully bent your wrist, leg) and got injured.
  2. You heard a crunch (usually light and short) as you fell.
  3. The affected joint gradually swells and feels pain.
  4. You can perform flexion-extensor movements, but doing them is uncomfortable and painful.

The above symptoms are typical for sprains of any kind and can be treated at home, without the need to go to the local clinic. But, the doctor still needs to appear, because under the symptoms described above, a dislocation of the joint or a fracture may be hidden.

How do you know if you have broken something and need to see a doctor urgently? With such symptoms:

  • the injured part of the body “does not obey” – you cannot move it, step on it, etc.;
  • the place of impact hurts very much, and when moving, these pain sensations increase significantly;
  • the pain is not strong, but the place where the injury occurred is numb;
  • there is a purple bruise on the injured part of the body (the first sign of serious bleeding), there is severe swelling;
  • The joint is deformed and visible to the naked eye.

In the situations described above, you need to call an ambulance, because even a minor fracture can cause damage to large vessels and nerves. If you do not treat such a problem, you can never restore sensitivity in the limb at all.

Signs of a fracture

What is a fracture?

In simple words, a fracture is a violation of a bone caused by some kind of mechanical damage. There are several types of fractures:

  1. Closed (soft tissue intact).
  2. Open (soft tissue damaged, bone fragments exposed).
  3. No displacement (bone fragments not displaced).
  4. Offset (debris moved).
  5. Pathological (appeared against the background of any disease of the bone apparatus – neoplasms, arthrosis, osteoporosis, etc.).

How to understand that you have a fracture:

  1. You feel pain (can be of the most varied nature).
  2. The limb is in an unnatural position.
  3. The mobility of the limb is impaired – you can only bend it a little, in the part where there is no joint.
  4. Bone fragments visible in the wound (if the fracture is open).
  5. There is a strong swelling in the area of ​​injury, which developed very quickly.