Posted on Feb 11, 2024

Ankle fractures need immediate treatment by Houston Ankle SurgeonToo many people write off a sprained ankle and don't get it treated properly. Unfortunately, many of those assumed sprains are actually an ankle fracture. An ankle fracture is a break in one of the bones that form the ankle joint. But how can you tell the difference between these two injuries? And what are the different treatment protocols for a sprain versus a fracture? Keep reading to find out! 

What is an ankle sprain? 

When you twist, roll, or turn your ankle in an unnatural way, you could stretch or tear your ligaments. (These are bands of tissue that hold the bones in your ankle together.) And that damage to your ligaments is how we define an ankle sprain. 

Symptoms of a sprained ankle include pain, limits on your ankle's range of motion, swelling, bruising, instability, and tenderness to the touch. While you may be able to walk on the injured ankle, doing so will be challenging. And, it can be painful. 

Now, here's where things get tricky. When you roll or twist your ankle, you could damage your ligaments. You could also break a bone in the ankle. In fact, you could sustain ligament and bone damage. So, how can you tell if your ankle is sprained or broken? Well, sometimes, you just need a bit of help. Allow us to explain. 

What is an ankle fracture? 

Your ankle is made up of three bones: the tibia, fibula and talus. When you sustain an ankle fracture, that means you've broken one or more of those three bones. Break just one bone in the ankle, or sustain a stress fracture in the area, and you may still be able to walk. But if you've sustained a break in more than one of the bones, the ankle may be displaced, and that adds up to more severe symptoms. And a far more intense treatment and recovery plan. 

The location of your fracture matters, too. In fact, we classify broken ankles based on the areas of the bones that fracture. Also, if the broken bone punctures your skin, we'll diagnose an open fracture. And this injury is considered more serious, since it leaves you vulnerable to infection. 

Symptoms of a broken ankle vary by the location of the break, and the severity of the injury. (A displaced fracture is likely to cause more pain then a stable injury.) But, in general, broken ankle symptoms include pain, bruising, swelling, tenderness to the touch, an inability to bear weight, and a visible deformity to the ankle. Now, do any of those symptoms sound familiar? Of course they do: we just listed a bunch of them as signs of a sprained ankle. So now you can see why it's hard to decided for yourself if you've sprained or broken your ankle. However, in the office, we can give you the right diagnosis. And then we can provide appropriate treatment. 

Is my ankle sprained or broken? 

While sprains and fractures both present with pain, swelling, and bruising, the fractured or broken ankle will have pain and symptoms that continue longer. If a broken ankle is not treated properly, it can lead to infection, arthritis, continued swelling and pain, and deformities of the foot and ankle. Of course, you don't want to wait around in pain to determine what kind of injury you've sustained. But you also don't want to get an x-ray every time you roll your ankle. So, how can you tell if you've got a sprain or a fracture? Here's our recommended post-injury care plan. 

Just rolled or twisted your ankle? Come into the office for a physical exam. If your pain and tenderness seems to be coming from your soft tissue, we can probably spare you an x-ray. Instead, we'll recommend RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Within a week or two, the injury should heal, and you'll be walking comfortably again. 

Now, if your pain seems localized around your bone during the exam, we'll likely recommend an x-ray. And we'll do the same if a suspected sprain hasn't healed with two to three weeks. Then, at that point, we'll know if you've sustained an ankle fracture. And we can begin treating your injury based on its location and severity. 

Broken ankle treatment in Houston, TX

Luckily, in our Houston podiatry practice, we offer in-house x-rays, sparing you a trip to the ER. (And the long waits you'd face there.) Then, once we have your images, we can see the location of your fracture. We can also tell if any joints are involved in your injury. And we can see if the broken bone has remained largely in place; if the bone fragments are still aligned; or if the broken bones have moved out of alignment and will need additional interventions in order to heal properly. 

If a broken ankle is in a good position, immobilization and keeping the pressure off of the limb may be sufficient. If the fracture is displaced or otherwise in poor position, surgery to repair the fracture may be necessary. This may involve the placement of screws and plates, bone grafts, ankle fusions, or ankle replacements depending on the severity of the fracture and the assessment of your ankle surgeon.

If you think that you sprained your ankle, don't try to diagnose your own injury. And don't try to walk off the pain. Because if you do? Whether you have a sprained or broken ankle, treating the injury yourself means it just won't heal right. Instead, what should you do after rolling or twisting your ankle? Be sure to get it examined quickly, so we can make sure we're properly treating your exact concern. All you have to do is  contact our Houston foot and ankle surgery office. When you tell us you've just rolled your ankle and are in pain, we'll provide an immediate appointment. Then, when you come in, we'll give you an accurate diagnose and review all your available treatment options to ensure your full recovery.