Ankle pain literally stops you in your tracks. Often, at the moment of injury, the pain is severe, and the joint can’t withstand even the slightest pressure — so walking is not an option. If possible, you hop to a place where you can inspect your ankle and try to figure out what happened.
Of course, the only way to know for sure which type of ankle injury you’ve sustained is to seek professional medical attention from experts like those on our team here at NEIL GHODADRA, MD, in West Los Angeles and Thousand Oaks, California. Dr. Ghodadra treats all types of ankle injuries and joint conditions, including tendonitis, arthritis, ankle instability, sprains, bursitis, and fractures.
Some of these conditions develop gradually over time, but sprains and fractures are acute injuries with similar symptoms. To tell the difference, ask yourself these four questions.
1. What did you hear?
Sometimes an ankle injury gives you an audible clue about what happened at the point of injury.
An ankle sprain occurs when one of the ligaments in the joint stretches beyond its capacity and ruptures. In many cases, the sound of this violent tear creates a popping sound at the moment of the injury or immediately following impact. Not all ankle sprains are accompanied by audible sound, but if you hear a distinct “pop,” chances are you’ve suffered a sprain.
An ankle fracture occurs when you break one of the bones in your ankle joint. Even though bones are very durable, excessive force, a bad landing, or an extreme twist can place so much pressure on your bones that something has to give — sometimes it’s a ligament, sometimes it’s a bone, and sometimes it’s both.
Again, you may hear nothing at all when a bone breaks, but if you hear a crack, that’s usually a sign you have a fracture. You may sustain a thin hairline crack, a full-fledged compound fracture, or anything in between.
2. What does it look like?
You can expect any type of ankle injury to include swelling and discoloration because your body reacts instantly by sending blood and other healing properties to the scene.
If the main visual clue is a huge, puffy ankle, but it looks generally aligned in a normal position, you’re more likely to have a sprained ankle.
Swelling plus misalignment
If the inflammation is accompanied by an odd angular orientation of your joint, chances are you fractured your ankle and/or dislocated it.
3. Where is the pain?
When it comes to distinguishing the difference between an ankle sprain and an ankle fracture, it helps to narrow down exactly where the pain is coming from.
If the pain is most intense when you touch your ankle bone — the round knob that protrudes on either side of your joint — a fracture may be the cause.
Ankle sprains typically hurt more around the bony protrusion, along the areas where you have soft tissues.
4. How does it feel?
Although both a sprain and a fracture can be painful, the nuances of the pain reveal a lot.
Pain and stiffness
Pain and stiffness are associated with ankle sprains, which is why it’s so difficult to put weight on it.
Pain and/or numbness
Ankle fractures are known for causing pain as well as loss of sensation. If you experience numbness, a pins-and-needles sensation, or tingling in your ankle, these symptoms indicate a fracture.
How we treat ankle sprains and fractures
After examining your injured ankle and talking with you about your accident and your symptoms, Dr. Ghodadra uses advanced imaging tests, such as X-rays or MRI, to confirm his preliminary diagnosis.
Depending on the type and severity of your injury, you may be able to heal on your own with some rest and support. Icing a sprained ankle, compressing it with an elastic support wrap, and keeping it elevated and immobile can speed up the healing process. Minor hairline fractures may benefit from the same treatment, but more severe breaks call for several weeks of casting and booting.
If you suspect you have a sprained or broken ankle, don’t try to self-diagnose — come in and see Dr. Ghodadra for an expert evaluation and proper care so you can heal quickly and completely.
Call us at either of our locations to schedule an appointment today, or request one using our online booking tool any time.