Ligaments are tough, rope-like fibers that connect bone to bone. When ligaments are injured, it is called a sprain. The symptoms of a severe sprain are very similar to those of a broken bone. It is impossible to know without a doubt whether a bone is broken or just sprained without an X-ray.
To someone who is not properly trained to know the difference, it is easy to confuse an ankle sprain with a broken ankle and vice versa. When a bone is the ankle is actually fractured, it is a break. It is usually the small bone to the outside of the ankle, known as the fibula, that breaks.
How to Tell the Difference
According to research conducted by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, around 25,000 individuals sprain their ankle every day. It is important that you learn to tell the difference between a sprained ankle and a broken ankle, especially if you are an athlete who plays sports on a regular basis.
• The first thing you should do it consider how the injury took place. If you stepped on an uneven surface, twisted your foot or lost your balance, you most likely sprained your foot. If you tripped, suffered a hard fall or experienced heavy impact, like an automobile accident, then you may very well have broken your ankle.
• Examine your ankle to determine if there is any swelling. If the ankle is swollen and tender but you can still move it, it is a sprained ankle.
• Rate your pain. A broken ankle will cause swelling, bruising, numbness and tenderness; however, a sprained ankle is often more painful. On the other hand, if you experience immediate, severe pain or the ankle is deformed, you most likely have a broken ankle.
• Try to walk on your ankle. If you can walk, even if it is painful, this is an indication that the injury is just a sprain. If you cannot put any weight on the affected foot, your ankle is probably broken.
• A professional health care provider will be able to tell you for sure if your ankle is broken or just sprained. Your doctor will take an X-ray, which will help determine for sure the exact injury. Your doctor may also decide to perform a stress test to determine if surgery is necessary and determine which ligaments you have injured.
Recovering From an Ankle Sprain
The recovery time for a sprained ankle depends on a number of different factors, including the amount of swelling present, the extent of the sprain, initial care and whether or not you choose to undergo treatment from a physical therapist.
A Grade 1 ankle sprain with minor pain and swelling will generally take one to two weeks to heal. The most common sprain, a Grade 2, can take from four to six weeks to heal. The most serious type of ankle sprain is a Grade 3, which can take from eight to twelve weeks to heal completely.
Recovering From a Broken Ankle
Recovery success from a broken ankle depends on the method of treatment that you choose. You will recover from a broken ankle much faster if you do not move the leg much, especially before treatment has been administered. If the bone has actually cracked and it becomes brittle, then the recovery time will be considerably longer.
To speed recovery of a broken ankle, refrain from putting any weight on the ankle. Use an ice pack to keep the swelling down, which will effectively reduce pain as well. Some patients will need to use a cane or crutches to help keep weight off the affected ankle.
Keep in mind if surgery is required to correct your broken ankle, recovery time will be significantly increased.