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The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) notes that ankle fractures in the United States have increased in frequency and severity over the last 30-40 years, thanks in part to a more active population. And according to the AAOS, ankle sprains are common enough that they’re the number-one reason athletes cite for not participating in a sports event.

The experts at Foot & Ankle Specialists of Ohio see their fair share of fractured and sprained ankles. Read what they say about these common injuries, the difference between an ankle fracture and a sprain, and why it matters.

Why are ankle injuries so common?

The ankle joint is a complex structure that includes the talus (ankle bone), which sits atop the heel bone (calcaneus). The upper portion of the ankle bone fits into a socket formed by the tibia (shinbone) and small lower leg bone (fibula).

Numerous ligaments surround and stabilize the joint, attaching the ankle bone to the lower leg bones and the top of the heel bone. Tendons connect muscles in the lower leg to the foot and provide the foot’s up and down movement. Tendons also support the arch and allow your foot to turn slightly inward at the ankle.

The ankles support about one and a half times your body weight with walking and eight times your weight when you run. Unfortunately, the complexity of the ankle joints and the demands placed on them daily makes them vulnerable to strains, sprains, and fractures.

What are the symptoms of an ankle sprain versus a fracture?

Ankle sprains occur when the ankle rolls or twists unexpectedly, causing ligaments to overstretch and sometimes tear or rupture. Fractures can affect any bone in the ankle and may occur with a twisting injury or a blow to the ankle joint that shatters bone.

Actions that often lead to ankle injuries include walking or running on an uneven surface or landing on the side of your foot when jumping or pivoting. Ankle sprains and fractures are common sports injuries but can also occur with a simple misstep during your daily routine.

Symptoms that mark the difference between an ankle sprain and fracture are relatively subtle. And, to confuse things further, you may have both a sprain and a fracture simultaneously.

Both injuries include:

  • Pain and tenderness around the joint
  • Bruising and swelling
  • Instability of the joint, making it difficult to stand
  • Limited range of motion in the ankle
  • Popping sensation in the joint at the time of injury

A fracture or dislocation may cause a visible deformity or bulge at the ankle joint, and the pain from a fracture is often sharp and immediate. A sprain may cause mild discomfort initially that worsens in the hours or days following the injury.

Still confused about a sprain versus a fracture?

Even experienced physicians can’t determine whether you’ve experienced an ankle sprain or a fracture without an X-ray or other imaging study. Thus, the Foot & Ankle Specialists of Ohio recommend you schedule an appointment whenever you’re concerned about conditions that affect your feet or ankles.

They also recommend you schedule a visit sooner rather than later if you’ve experienced an ankle injury and:

  • Have difficulty walking
  • Experience severe or worsening pain
  • Notice an obvious deformity at the ankle
  • Find it difficult to rest because of discomfort

Treatment for ankle fractures and sprains varies, typically including rest, ice, and activity modification. A fracture may require immobilization (casting) for a time. A severe sprain may require surgery to repair torn or ruptured ligaments.

Schedule an evaluation at Foot & Ankle Specialists of Ohio today by calling the nearest office or requesting an appointment using our secure online service.