How do You Know if an Ankle is Broken or Sprained?

A broken ankle and a sprained ankle can often present similar symptoms, which may include pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty moving the foot or bearing weight on it. However, the intensity and specifics of these symptoms can sometimes give a clue as to whether the ankle might be broken or sprained.

Here are some general indicators:

Sprained Ankle:

  1. Mild to severe pain, often getting worse when moving the ankle or walking.
  2. Swelling around the ankle.
  3. Bruising.
  4. Limited range of motion.
  5. Instability of the ankle (in severe cases).

Broken Ankle:

  1. Intense pain, often immediately after the injury and exacerbated by any attempt to put weight on the foot.
  2. More extensive swelling, possibly affecting the foot and lower leg.
  3. Visible deformity of the ankle (in severe cases), which could be a sign that a bone has broken and displaced.
  4. Inability to walk or bear weight on the ankle.
  5. Possible numbness or decreased sensation, if the break is affecting nerves.

Even with these general indicators, it can be hard to tell the difference just by symptoms alone. Some severe sprains may mimic the symptoms of a break. X-rays or other imaging studies are often required to diagnose an ankle fracture accurately. So, if you suspect that you or someone else has either a severe sprain or a fracture, it is important to seek medical attention promptly.

Can you Still Move your Ankle if it’s Broken?

Yes, in some cases you may still be able to move your ankle if it’s broken, but doing so will likely cause intense pain. The amount of movement possible will depend on the severity of the fracture. In some cases, there may be significant deformity, and movement may be very limited. In other cases, such as a small, non-displaced fracture, you might be able to move the ankle to some degree.

However, being able to move the ankle does not mean that the ankle isn’t broken. This is a common misconception. Pain and swelling are often more reliable signs of a fracture. If you suspect that your ankle might be broken, it’s important not to test it by trying to move or walk on it, as this could potentially worsen the injury.

A healthcare provider can perform a physical examination and order imaging studies, such as X-rays, to accurately diagnose whether an ankle is sprained or fractured. If there is any suspicion of a broken ankle, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately to prevent complications and to facilitate proper healing.

Can Walking on a Sprained Ankle Break it?

Walking on a sprained ankle won’t typically cause the ankle to break. However, it can certainly make the sprain worse and increase the time it takes for your ankle to heal. When you sprain your ankle, ligaments (which are the tissues that connect bones to each other) have been stretched or torn. These injuries need time to heal.

Furthermore, walking on a sprained ankle can affect your balance and cause you to fall or further twist the ankle, potentially leading to more severe injuries, including fractures. In addition, if the sprain is not treated properly, it could lead to long-term problems such as chronic ankle instability or post-traumatic arthritis.

Therefore, if you’ve sprained your ankle, it’s important to follow the RICE protocol, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation, and seek medical advice. In some cases, you might need crutches, a brace, or a boot to help protect the ankle while it heals. Physical therapy can also be helpful to restore strength and flexibility. Always consult a healthcare provider to determine the best course of action for your specific injury.

Can you Walk on a Broken Ankle and not Know it?

In some cases, it may be possible to walk on a broken ankle without being aware of the fracture, especially if it is a minor or non-displaced fracture. Pain and swelling may be mistaken for a simple sprain.

However, most broken ankles are quite painful and will cause significant discomfort when attempting to bear weight or walk. It’s also possible that there could be visible deformity or an “unnatural” angle to the foot or ankle in the case of a severe fracture.

Even if walking on a broken ankle is possible, it’s not advisable. Doing so can cause further damage and complicate the healing process. If you have injured your ankle and have severe pain, swelling, difficulty moving the foot, or any other symptoms that make you suspect a fracture, you should seek medical attention immediately.


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