Sprained ankle vs. broken ankle

The ankle is a hinge joint where your tibia (shinbone), fibula (calf bone) and talus (foot bone) meet. It joins your lower leg to your foot. In addition to these bones, your ankle has nerves, muscles, ligaments, cartilage, tendons and blood vessels. The ankle is crucial for running, jumping and walking, and ankle injuries are common. Sprained ankles affect approximately 25,000 people each day, making ankle sprains one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries. Broken ankles are less common than sprained ankles, with an estimated 5 million ankle fractures occurring in the U.S. each year.

The difference between a sprained ankle and a broken ankle 

Distinguishing between these two injuries is essential to receive proper treatment to help your healing.

  • Sprained ankle — A sprained ankle occurs when the ligaments that help support the ankle stretch or tear due to excessive force or twisting. Sprains are categorized into three grades: Grade I (mild), Grade II (moderate), and severe (Grade III). Grade I sprains are mild stretching and microscopic tearing of the ligaments. Grade II sprains involve partial tearing of the ligaments. Grade III sprains are complete tearing of the ligaments.
  • Broken ankle (ankle fracture) — A broken ankle, or ankle fracture, occurs when any of the bones in the ankle joint break. Fractures can range from a small, simple crack in the bone to a complete break, multiple fractures or even displaced bones.

Symptoms of a sprained ankle can include:

  • Pain and swelling around the ankle.
  • Bruising.
  • Difficulty bearing weight on the affected foot.
  • Instability or “giving way” feeling when walking.

Symptoms of a broken ankle can include:

  • Immediate, severe pain after the injury.
  • Swelling, bruising and tenderness in the ankle.
  • Deformity, like the ankle appearing misaligned or out of place.
  • Inability to bear weight on the affected foot.
  • Numbness or tingling in the toes.
  • Bone protruding through the skin, indicating a compound fracture.

Sprained ankle vs. broken ankle: How are they diagnosed?

Differentiating between a sprained ankle and a broken ankle is crucial for appropriate treatment. Methods to diagnose the specific condition can include:

  • Pain and tenderness assessment.
  • Range-of-motion testing.
  • X-rays.
  • MRI or CT scan.
  • Stress test.

Treatment approaches for sprained ankle vs. broken ankle

Treatment approaches for sprained ankles and broken ankles can vary based on the severity of the injury.

Sprained ankle treatments can include:

  • Rest.
  • Ice.
  • Compression.
  • Elevation.
  • Pain relief.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Bracing or taping.

Broken ankle treatments can include:

  • Immobilization.
  • Pain management.
  • Elevation.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Weight-bearing progression.
  • Surgery.
  • Follow-up care.

While they both have similar initial treatment approaches and can benefit from physical therapy, receiving prompt medical care for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan tailored to the specific injury is still essential.

How can physical therapy help ankle pain caused by sprained ankles or broken ankles?

Physical therapy plays an essential rehabilitation role for sprained ankles and broken ankles. Physical therapy can help reduce pain, restore function, improve strength and potentially help prevent future injuries. A physical therapist can use a variety of techniques and modalities to help treat sprained ankles and broken ankles, including:

  • Aquatic therapyAquatic therapy uses water’s buoyancy and resistance properties to help rehabilitation and promote healing. It helps with a reduced weight-bearing impact. The natural resistance of water can help improve joint flexibility and range of motion without causing excessive strain.
  • Custom splint fabricationCustom splints can be an invaluable part of the rehabilitation process of sprained ankles and broken ankles. These splints can support, immobilize and protect the injured area. This can aid in the healing process and help prevent further damage.
  • Therapeutic exercisesTherapeutic exercises can play an essential role in helping to rehabilitate sprained ankles and broken ankles. These exercises are designed to help improve the ankle joint’s strength, flexibility, balance and stability.
  • Manual therapyManual therapy is a hands-on treatment that includes soft tissue manipulation and joint mobilization. Physical therapists use the techniques to help improve joint mobility, relieve pain, reduce swelling and help promote overall healing. Soft tissue manipulation can help reduce muscle tension, improve circulation and help break down scar tissue. Joint mobilization can help with the restoration of joint mobility and pain relief.
  • Ultrasound therapyUltrasound therapy can be beneficial for musculoskeletal injuries. It uses sound waves to penetrate deep tissue to help stimulate tissue repair, reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
  • Electrical stimulation — Electrical stimulation is a therapeutic modality used in physical therapy to help heal various injuries, including sprained ankles and broken ankles. Electrical stimulation is provided by applying electrical currents to the affected area. It is intended to help with pain management, muscle strength, reduction of inflammation and muscle tension, and circulation improvement.
  • Kinesiology taping — Kinesiology taping is a therapeutic treatment used in sports medicine and physical therapy to help support and stabilize joints. It can help relieve pain, reduce swelling and support healing. Sprained ankles and broken ankles both need stability and support during the healing process. Kinesiology taping can provide nonrestrictive support that can allow you to engage in rehabilitation exercises and daily activities with more confidence.

Lattimore PT is committed to providing you with exceptional rehabilitation services for your sprained or broken ankle 

At Lattimore Physical Therapy, you can be assured of our unwavering commitment to providing you with the highest quality of care. Our team understands that each client is unique, and we tailor our treatment care plans to address your specific needs and goals. Whether recovering from a sprained or broken ankle, our expert and dedicated team at Lattimore Physical Therapy provides top-notch care to help you navigate your rehabilitation journey.

Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.

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