Ankle Sprains and Fractures

Nothing reminds us how highly we should value our ankles as painfully as when an ankle sprain or fracture strikes.

While such injuries can often occur during the high-intensity action of sports and exercise, they can also happen with surprising frequency in daily life. Stepping off an unexpected stair or curb, falling into a hidden dip or hole in the ground – anything that can cause enough of a sudden twist or force buildup in the ankle can cause a sprain or fracture.

We highly recommend that any suspected ankle sprain or fracture be evaluated by a professional. Withholding proper treatment when needed can increase the risk of chronic pain, instability and other problems should the injury not heal properly.

What is the Difference Between an Ankle Sprain and an Ankle Fracture?

Although both can be very painful, sprains and fractures affect different parts of the ankle.

A fracture in the ankle can involve the breaking of one, two, or all three bones that make up the ankle joint: the tibia (shinbone), fibula, and talus. 

Fractures can vary widely in severity. Sometimes it is sometimes possible to walk on a broken ankle (although you should never do so), but more severe fractures may leave the ankle deformed and/or fully unstable.

A sprain is an injury to the ligaments of the ankle joint – the bands of tough tissue that connect the bones. Sprains are typically categorized into three different grades:

  • Grade 1: The ligaments have been overstretched and might have some light tearing. Mild swelling and stiffness are common.
  • Grade 2:  Tearing is more severe, but not fully through the ligament. Moderate pain, swelling, and bruising are common, and walking can be painful.
  • Grade 3: The ligament has fully torn. Severe swelling and bruising are common. Instability and pain will likely make it impossible to walk.

Many people ask how to tell the difference between a fracture and a sprain in the ankle. Ultimately, there is only one best practice to follow in this situation: receive professional evaluation and care

You do not need to immediately know whether you have a sprain or fracture. If your symptoms are severe enough that you can’t tell the difference, it is a sure sign that you need expert care in any case. We will be able to determine the extent of your injuries and provide the best course of treatment for recovery.


elevating leg injury RICE method

Treating Ankle Fractures and Sprains

Let us repeat that any potential fracture or sprain in the ankle should be taken seriously. 

We highly recommend that you call our office, even if the injury feels mild. We might not always recommend that you come in immediately, depending on your symptoms, but we can offer you advice for home care. We will also have a record of your injury to reference should it result in future complications.

The best first steps for any suspected sprain or fracture are to stop the activity immediately and begin RICE therapy:

  • REST: Keep weight off the affected ankle as much as possible.
  • ICE: Use ice packs for 15-20 minutes at a time to limit pain and swelling (making sure to always wrap the pack in a thin towel first to avoid direct contact with the skin).
  • COMPRESSION: Properly wrap the area in a compression wrap or bandage. Only do this if you know how and it is not too painful to do so. Otherwise, it is all right to skip this step.
  • ELEVATION: Keep your ankle above the level of your heart any time you are sitting or lying down.

Following RICE therapy within the first 48 hours of an injury can help reduce pain and swelling in the area.

Further treatment will greatly depend on the nature and severity of the injury.

Grade 1 or 2 ankle sprains, as well as minor and stable fractures can often be treated without a need for surgery. A cast, walking boot, or brace may be necessary to immobilize and protect the ankle, allowing it a better opportunity to heal.

Grade 3 ankle sprains and fractures where the bones have shattered and/or greatly shifted position, might require surgery to repair the ligament or fully realign the bones.

In certain cases, we might also recommend the use of advanced treatments such as MLS laser therapy or other forms of regenerative medicine to aid in recovery and pain relief. 

Whatever the course of treatment, and no matter how mild or severe the injury may be, it is very important to always follow through with recommendations thoroughly. Even a minor sprain or fracture can cause future instability if it does not heal properly, increasing the risk of further injuries and damage.

Your Source for Ankle Sprain and Fracture Treatment

Never try to just “walk” off an ankle injury. We will always be happy to provide advice and treatment for any injury you or a loved one experiences. 

Schedule an appointment with us over the phone or by filling out our online contact form.