How Can You Tell If It’s A Sprained Or Broken Ankle?

Ankle sprains are a common injury, with more than two million occurring each year. Sprained or broken ankles are often thought to be primarily an athletic injury, but more than half of ankle sprains happen to non-athletes. Anyone can experience an unexpected twisted or rolled ankle, which makes knowing how to identify and treat a sprained or broken ankle important for everyone. At Town Center Orthopaedics, ankle treatment is one of our specialties, so we’ve put together a list of questions and answers to help you determine the next steps to take and what to expect if you’ve injured your ankle.

“Can You Walk on a Sprained Ankle?” and Other Ankle Sprain Questions Answered

What is a sprained ankle?

A sprained ankle is a tear or painful stretch of one or more of the ligaments that hold the ankle in place. Ankle sprains occur when you roll or twist your ankle awkwardly, and can happen during any kind of physical activity, from a rigorous game of basketball to walking around your home. A sprained ankle is more likely to occur again if you have had ankle damage before.

What are the symptoms of a sprained ankle?

Symptoms of a sprained ankle may include:

 Young woman with a wrapped sprained ankle sits with her ankle elevated by a cushion on a table.

  • Ankle instability
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Tenderness when you touch your ankle
  • Popping sensation or sound at the time of injury
  • Swelling and bruising from bleeding under the skin
  • Pain, especially when you try to stand on the ankle

How are ankle sprains classified?

High ankle sprains are classified into three grades based on the amount of damage done to your ankle:

  • Grade 1: Your ankle is sore and may be slightly swollen, which means that the ligament may be stretched rather than torn.
  • Grade 2: You have prolonged pain, bruising, and swelling and you can’t put your full weight on your ankle. The ligaments are probably partially torn.
  • Grade 3: You experience severe pain, swelling, and bruising around your ankle. You might have heard a popping noise when you stumbled, which was the sound of the ligament completely tearing. You will be unable to stand or put full weight on your ankle because the ligament is not holding the joint together at all.

Download Ankle Sprains: Treatment and Tips for a Faster Recovery.


Should you see your doctor for a sprained ankle?

Everyone rolls their ankle now and then. So why should you visit your doctor for such a common injury?

Ankle sprains can cause pain and bruising, and even a mild sprain can have you off your feet for days or weeks. It’s important to talk to your doctor or orthopedic specialist to make sure you’re following the best possible course of home treatment for your sprain. Correctly performed self-care will help your sprain heal more quickly and get you back on your feet faster.

If your sprain is severe, your doctor will need to examine your ankle and order an x-ray to make sure it’s not actually broken. They will also want to determine whether you have a high ankle sprain or a low (lateral) sprain. A high ankle sprain has symptoms similar to the classic sprained ankle but is a more serious injury. Depending on the severity of your injury, you may need surgery or other specialized care.

Can you walk on a sprained ankle?

No. Even if the damage isn’t severe, you shouldn’t walk on a sprained ankle. The ligaments need time to recover from the injury. Walking on a sprained ankle could cause additional injury.

How do you treat a sprained ankle?

Treatments are used with the aim to reduce swelling and pain. Doctors recommend the RICE method, along with ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen to reduce pain:

  • Rest and use a brace, splint, or crutches to take the weight off your ankle.
  • Ice should be applied 20 minutes at a time, several times daily.
  • Compression with an ace bandage will help support the ankle and reduce or prevent inflammation.
  • Elevate the injured area by propping it up above heart level to help reduce fluid buildup.

In the unfortunate event that your sprained ankle isn’t healing correctly or requires surgery, your doctor will help you understand other treatment options that may be needed.

What is the recovery time for a sprained ankle?

Ankle sprain recovery time depends on the severity of the injury. Minor sprains may heal in as little as two weeks, while a severe sprain may take from six to 12 weeks.

Your health care provider may also recommend exercises or physical therapy during your recovery to build back flexibility, strength, and range of motion.

What’s the best way to help prevent sprained ankles?

  • Warm-up and stretch before any physical activity and, if you’ve been injured before, wear a support brace or tape your ankle.
  • Wear the correct shoes for the activity and also be careful when wearing high heels.
  • Be careful on uneven surfaces.

If you’ve injured your ankle and suspect it’s sprained, let us help you with the patient-centered care you need. Our physicians are among the leading musculoskeletal specialists in Virginia, so you can relax knowing we’ll help you get back on your feet fast. Request an appointment online today.

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