Ever found yourself hobbling from an ankle injury, wondering if it’s a sprain or a fracture? Both sprains and fractures can sideline you with pain and swelling, but knowing the difference is key to your recovery.

Having this knowledge not only speeds up your recovery but also prevents further damage, getting you back on your feet and into your routine with confidence.

Dive into our guide as we illuminate the critical differences between a sprained ankle vs broken ankle.

What Is a Sprain?

A sprain happens when the ligaments around the ankle stretch too far or tear. Ligaments are tough tissues that connect bones and keep joints stable. When you sprain your ankle, it can hurt, swell up, and make it hard to walk or put weight on it.

Sprains can be mild or severe, depending on how damaged the ligaments are. Knowing about sprains helps in telling them apart from broken ankles and figuring out the best way to heal.

What Is a Fracture?

A fracture occurs when a bone in the ankle breaks or cracks. This can happen from forceful impacts or sudden twists. Fractures can cause significant pain, swelling, and difficulty moving the affected ankle. They can vary in severity, from small cracks in the bone to complete breaks.

How to Tell the Difference

Both sprains and fractures cause pain, but the intensity may vary. With an ankle sprain, the pain is usually milder and may improve with rest and ice. In contrast, a broken ankle often causes more severe and persistent pain.

Swelling is common in both injuries, but the extent and locations can differ. In a sprained ankle, swelling typically occurs around the soft tissues of the joint. However, with a broken ankle, swelling may be more pronounced and accompanied by visible bruising around the site of the fracture.

In severe cases of ankle fracture, there may be noticeable deformity or misalignment of the affected area. This can manifest as an obvious bone protrusion or an abnormal angle in the ankle joint.

Additionally, individuals with a fractured ankle may find it extremely painful or impossible to put any weight on the affected foot, whereas those with a sprain may still be able to bear some weight, albeit with discomfort.


For a sprained ankle, initial treatment involves the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Resting the ankle, applying ice packs, using compression bandages, and elevating the ankle. These all help reduce swelling and alleviate discomfort.

In cases of a broken ankle, treatment may include immobilization with a cast or a splint. In severe cases, you may need ankle or foot surgery to realign the bones using screws or plates. Physical therapy is essential for restoring ankle strength and range of motion post-surgery.

Sprained Ankle vs Broken Ankle

Discerning between a sprained ankle vs broken ankle is vital for effective treatment. By considering factors like pain intensity, swelling, deformity, and weight-bearing ability, you can accurately assess your injury.

Our board-certified orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Flint, is qualified to treat all your foot and ankle troubles. A few that he specializes in include ankle fractures, arthritis, foot dislocations, tendon tears, hindfoot fusion, and so on. So if you’re experiencing discomfort or uncertainty about your ankle or foot injury, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with us.

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