Is It a Break or a Sprain?

Eugene Pascarella
Dr. Eugene Pascarella, with a desire to help people, began Foot & Ankle Associates of Florida in July 1984.

No matter which aspect of life we’re discussing, the first step in truly fixing a problem is to accurately identify its root cause. When people skip this step regarding their healthcare, they risk simply addressing symptoms and not the underlying problem. Therefore, it’s possible for symptoms to keep returning, or to have new ones occur.

Getting to the root cause is especially important when two problems have similar symptoms – as can be the case with broken and sprained ankles. To make sure you end up with the right treatment, let’s take a look at how you can know if you’ve sustained a break or a sprain.

Resting FootFirst, it’s important to know the distinction between the two injuries. In all likelihood, you probably know a break (fracture) is something that happens to a bone. Further, you may know that a sprain is a soft tissue injury affecting a ligament (connective tissue connecting two bones together).

Given the fact one injury happens to a bone, and the other a ligament, why would people possibly be confused by the two?

The two conditions are often misunderstood as being the other because they have common symptoms and can result from similar injuries. For example, both sprains and fractures can happen when an ankle is placed under excessive stress at an unnatural angle. This can happen when you take a misplaced step. In a case like this, it is rather common to land awkwardly on the outside edge of the foot, which can either overstretch ligaments or cause a break in the bottom end of the fibula. Each often leads to pain and swelling in the ankle, but they are different injuries.

The joints in the foot and ankle are rather complex, and supported by various ligaments that can become sprained due to abnormal motion (rolling, twisting). If you can place weight upon the affected foot after injuring it, it’s likely (but not guaranteed) that you've sustained a sprain.

A bone fracture is often more painful than a sprain and you will experience difficulty putting weight on the affected ankle, especially when walking. This key indicator that you have a broken bone, and not “just” a sprain, is that you are unable to walk without severe pain.

Of course, the best way to know whether you have a break or a sprain in a lower limb is to make an appointment for a professional diagnosis from one of our highly-skilled doctors at Foot & Ankle Associates of Florida. After we’ve determined the nature of your injury, we will create a treatment plan so you can recover and go back to enjoying your life!

If you would like more information about these fairly common injuries, or you know it’s time to seek professional medical care (for any foot or ankle complaint), call 407-339-7759 or 352-589-9550 (if calling from Lake County) today.
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