Home » Ankle sprains and fractures: What’s the difference?

Ankle sprains and fractures: What’s the difference?

istock 970600496 1If you’ve injured your ankle, you probably wonder whether it’s a sprain or something much worse. Do you nurse it at home or seek immediate medical care? Read on to learn more about ankle sprains and fractures and treatments for both.

What is an ankle sprain?

An ankle sprain happens when you damage the ligaments in your ankle. Ligaments are the tough, stretchy bands that hold bones in place to keep the joint stable. If you have a sprain, it’s because the ligament is torn or stretched beyond its limits. If it’s a sprain, you feel pain in the soft part of the ankle.

What is an ankle fracture?

An ankle fracture happens when at least one of the three bones in the ankle breaks. If you suffer a fracture, you may have heard a popping or cracking sound or your ankle looks misshapen or “off.” If your ankle feels numb or tingly or the skin directly over the ankle bone is tender or hurts.


If you have a sprain, you can take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen. The “RICE” method may help as well. This includes rest, ice, compression and elevating the ankle above the heart. For a more moderate sprain, you may need physical therapy once the pain and swelling subside.

Pain relievers and the RICE method can also help with fractures, but you will need to seek medical treatment right away if you think you have a broken ankle. You need to have your ankle immobilized with crutches or a cast. If the ankle is unstable or the fracture is out of place, surgery may be necessary. This consists of repositioning the bone fragments into normal alignment and holding them together with special screws and metal plates attached to the outer surface of the bone. In severe cases, a screw or rod may be placed inside the bone.


A sprain may take days or weeks to heal, while a fracture could take six weeks to several months to heal.

If you’re not sure which injury you have, be sure to see your doctor so that your ankle can be examined and diagnosed for the best treatment. Call (219) 795-3360 to schedule an appointment. 

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