Differentiating Common Ankle Injuries

Many people experience ankle sprains or fractures during sports activities or from walking on uneven surfaces. The symptoms of both are similar, which makes telling the 2 injuries apart difficult. However, differentiating between fractures and sprains is important so proper treatment can be obtained before the ankle worsens.

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Fracture vs sprain

An ankle sprain is when the ligament is torn or damaged. An ankle fracture is when a bone at the ankle joint is broken. Symptoms of both injuries include pain, swelling, bruising, and tenderness. To determine the exact diagnosis, visiting the doctor is important. The healthcare provider will examine the ankle for pain and movement. An x-ray can also be ordered to determine whether the ankle is sprained or fractured. However, for people who want an answer right away, these 5 signs can be a helpful indication of what type of injury is at play.

1. Pain location

An important sign to know whether the injury is an ankle sprain or fracture is the location of the pain. Pain occurring over the soft area of the ankle is an ankle sprain. If the pain is directly over the ankle bone, then an ankle fracture has occurred.

2. Intensity of the pain

Pay attention to the intensity of the ankle pain. Pain that starts immediately after an ankle injury is mostly due to a fracture. In an ankle sprain, pain starts getting worse with time.

3. What was that sound?

The moment a person injures the ankle, an accompanying sound can sometimes be heard. If the sound is a crack, then the ankle has been broken. An ankle sprain will either be silent or have a popping sound in more severe cases.

4. Abnormal appearance

After getting injured, check the appearance of the ankle. If the ankle has a deformity, and swelling and bruising are present, then an ankle fracture has likely occurred. Ankle sprains can also be accompanied by swelling and bruising but do not usually have an abnormal appearance.

5. Experiencing paresthesia?

With an ankle sprain, general pain is commonly reported. In the case of an ankle fracture, pain is accompanied by a tingling and numbness sensation.

Treatment plans

For ankle sprains, the treatment is usually conservative. The RICE protocol, which stands for rest, ice application, compression, and elevation, is usually the first-line treatment. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications can be taken if needed until the pain dissipates. The doctor may recommend physical therapy (PT) to restore movement and strengthen the ankle. The treatment for ankle fractures is a combination of pain medications, surgery, immobilization, and physical therapy.

Getting back on your feet

Seeing a doctor to diagnose the injury is the best way to fix the pain and get back to daily life pain-free. Ankle sprains take about 2 weeks to recover from, while fractures usually require 6-8 weeks of recovery. Patients who have surgery for ankle fractures require a longer time to recuperate. Although both injuries can be painful, with the right treatment, the injury can resolve.

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