Sprained Ankle vs Broken Ankle - How Do You Tell the Difference?

Updated on December 15, 2017
LongTimeMother profile image

My husband is back on his feet without crutches! I believe it's because we put together a diet strategy incorporating healing foods.

I recorded details of my husband's broken ankle and recovery (complete with photos) in a number of articles. Here I provide information we both wish we'd had at our fingertips when he was first injured. If your ankle is broken or sprained, many of the treatments and recovery processes are similar. Having these tips available in a single list should help save you time instead of searching extensively for answers about your ankle injury.

Is Your Ankle Broken or Sprained?

If there is no obvious bone protruding, it can be hard to instantly identify if an ankle is broken or sprained.
If there is no obvious bone protruding, it can be hard to instantly identify if an ankle is broken or sprained. | Source

Is My Ankle Broken or Sprained?

Unfortunately there is no way of directly linking the way you injured your ankle to the likelihood of a specific outcome (broken ankle or sprained), so it is safest to assume you may have broken your ankle from the outset, and take appropriate precautions to reduce any further damage.

Sprained and broken ankles can be caused by:

  • Severely twisting your ankle
  • Harshly rotating your ankle
  • Rolling your ankle (eg during sport)
  • Tripping or falling
  • Impact during an accident (eg vehicle accident, or tumbling down stairs).

How your ankle responds to any kind of trauma will be influenced by many factors including your age, your bone density ... and good (or bad) luck.

How quickly and how well your ankle heals, however, can be controlled to a large extent by your own choices and actions.

Broken Ankle vs Sprained Ankle

When you first injure your ankle, it can be difficult to tell the difference between whether it is broken or sprained.

Symptoms of both include:

  • Immediate and severe ankle pain
  • Swelling around the ankle
  • Bruising of the foot and ankle
  • Tenderness if you try to touch it

The biggest clue to a broken ankle vs sprained ankle is:

  • Deformity of the ankle joint
  • Piece of bone protruding from the skin
  • However, even if these symptoms are not immediately obvious, you still may have a broken ankle.

It is not advisable to try and put weight on an injured ankle to establish whether it is broken or not. It can be just as painful to try and walk on a sprained ankle, and you don't want to increase the damage if your ankle is broken.

See a medical practitioner for tests and evaluation. That's the most effective way to establish the precise nature of your ankle injury.

Do You Know Your Ankle Anatomy?

What is the talus, tibia, fibula, and calcaneus? Where is the lateral maleolus? These different bones are just some of the ones you might have broken.

If you've damaged ligaments or tendons, you'll want to know where they are and what they do. Ligaments join bones and tendons join muscles, but where exactly is the Posterior Inferior Tibiofibular Ligament, if that's where your doctor says you have a problem?

The following video gives a very clear and simple explanation of the anatomy of an ankle. As soon as your doctor starts referring to specific parts of your ankle, take notes and refer back to the video below...

Which Part of Your Ankle Is Injured?

Hands-Free, Non-Weight-Bearing Crutches

One of the greatest inventions for anyone with a sprained or broken ankle would have to be the iWALK 2.0 Hands Free Crutch. Why didn't anybody tell me there was such a thing as hands-free crutches when my husband first broke his ankle?

It never occurred to me to go in search of an alternative to the traditional crutches I used as a child.

As my husband cluttered around with his crutches when he was not allowed to put any weight on his foot, complaining about the pressure on his underarms, repeatedly adjusting the height of each crutch to try and get more comfortable, and grumbling every time one fell out of reach as he tried to get himself from the car, I had no idea there was an easier option.

It was only after his recovery that I learned about the iWALK Hands Free Crutch. Here's the link I wish I had been given when he first broke his ankle...

Better Than Traditional Crutches

iWALK2.0 Hands Free Knee Crutch - Alternative for Crutches and Knee Scooters - by iWALKFree
iWALK2.0 Hands Free Knee Crutch - Alternative for Crutches and Knee Scooters - by iWALKFree
One of the greatest frustrations for my husband was trying to grip items while using traditional crutches. Some things were clamped between fingers, other things held with his teeth. But he could never carry a cup of coffee back to the couch. With this, you can!

Hands-Free Crutch With a Sprained Ankle

I can see the iWALK 2 0 Hands Free Crutch would make life really easy if you have a sprained ankle and can't bear weight on it. The horizontal support on which you rest your leg seems to provide ample room for a bandaged ankle to be unhindered.

My husband and I have discussed buying one of these just to have it on hand for friends or family who may injure an ankle in the future.

I don't know about you and your friends, but the people in our lives all play sports and/or walk in the bush or on uneven farmland—so ankle injuries are quite common.

My Husband's Ankle

Repairing my husband's broken ankle was much more complicated than if it had been a sprain.
Repairing my husband's broken ankle was much more complicated than if it had been a sprain. | Source

Will This Crutch Work for Both Sprains and Breaks?

It would be great if the iWALK 2.0 Hands Free Crutch were equally effective for a sprained ankle vs a broken ankle, but I suspect there are a few restrictions.

For instance, my husband's broken ankle required plates and screws to be inserted during surgery, so I am not convinced he'd be able to put pressure on the lower part of his leg.

Yes, his support boot was padded ... but I doubt he could have comfortably put pressure on his fresh scar.

However if he'd simply broken a bone in his ankle and had a plaster cast with no injury extending up his leg, I imagine the hands-free crutch would have been ideal.

Even with a large removable boot as opposed to a plaster cast, I can see how we could have made it workable. A local chain store that sells various types of foam (Clark Rubber) has blocks of foam of different textures - some of which has good grip.

They'll cut it to size, and with a bit of sculpting it should be possible to fill the gap between the knee and the top of the boot without making the crutch unstable. As soon as the straps are tightened, the leg should be held firmly in place.

Specific Instructions About Fitting the Crutch

Can Be Swapped Between Right and Left Legs

The company makes a series of videos that are great and clearly explain what is required for assembling, fitting, and walking with the iWALK 2.0 Hands Free Crutch. The same crutch can be used for the right or left leg, making simple adjustments during assembly.

A Thorough Assessment of the iWALK Hands Free Crutch

Another option to standard crutches

Freedom Crutch - Padded Knee Rest, Attaches to Standard Crutches for Hands Free Mobility. Relieves Underarm Discomfort.
Freedom Crutch - Padded Knee Rest, Attaches to Standard Crutches for Hands Free Mobility. Relieves Underarm Discomfort.
This is a cheaper alternative that might suit your ankle injury. I have assessed what I consider to be the pros and cons of this addition to standard crutches, including the fact that it looks like there is more room for a heavy support boot to extend beyond the knee rest. You'll need to decide if you think it suits you.

Can You Really Walk Hands-Free With a Crutch?

The .support boot my husband wore to protect his broken ankle is large and heavy
The .support boot my husband wore to protect his broken ankle is large and heavy | Source

Healing a broken or sprained ankle

If you have a broken or sprained ankle, good luck with your recovery. Ankle injuries are painful and take time to heal.

I hope you are better able to understand the nature of your injury, and some of the options available to you ... including the possibility of using a hands-free crutch.

More about ankle pain

Injured your ankle?

How easy was it for you to identify the nature of your ankle injury?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2014 LongTimeMother


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    • louise-barraco profile image

      Louise Barraco 

      3 years ago from Ontario

      I have fractured my shoulder that's the only huge injury I have had

    • LongTimeMother profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Australia

      Ankle injuries cause great inconvenience, whether it is a break or a sprain. I hope you never need the information in the future, Louise, but I'm pleased to have helped. Thanks for your feedback. :)

    • louise-barraco profile image

      Louise Barraco 

      3 years ago from Ontario

      This hub is very informative I have twisted my ankle on occasion not sprained or broke it though which is much worse. Thanks for the great information.

    • LongTimeMother profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Australia

      I've not yet encountered a boot with inflatables, Marisa. And hopefully I'll never need one.

      You did well to hobble down the mountain!

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Kate Swanson 

      4 years ago from Sydney

      ...just to add, I also wore a boot which had small inflatable sacs on either side of the ankle to cushion it. Not the most comfortable thing but a great improvement on plaster!

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Kate Swanson 

      4 years ago from Sydney

      I hurt my ankle at the top of Mt Kosciuszko, walked 5km back down the mountain, stopped for a beer in the pub at the bottom and then could barely put any weight on the foot when I tried to stand up again.

      I hobbled into the Medical Centre at the foot of the mountain and said "I've sprained my ankle".

      "No you haven't," said the doc. "You've broken it." I looked at him in disbelief, but he insisted.

      "I see a dozen ankles a day in ski season," he said, "and I have a theory. If you have to be carried into the surgery, it's sprained. If you can hobble on it, it's broken. The reason is that bones can't feel pain - so damaged tendons, ligaments and muscles hurt a lot more than a broken bone."

      Sure enough, he x-rayed it on the spot and yes, it was broken.

    • LongTimeMother profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Australia

      I've not seen a boot that inflates, Randy. Nice that it can fit and support each foot though.

      Phyllis, thanks for the votes and share. I was surprised to discover the existence of a hands free crutch as well. :)

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      5 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Than for this helpful informational hub, LTM. That "no hands" crutch is very interesting -- I had never seen one before. Voted Up, Interesting and shared.

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 

      5 years ago from Southern Georgia

      Great info, LTM! The boot I used had a pump which inflated to fit the foot on both sides and supported my weight fine. Unfortunately, the air chamber was right atop the injured area and caused quite a bit of pain itself.

    • LongTimeMother profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Australia

      Hi Faith Reaper. There must have been easier ways to escape kitchen duties. lol. I can't imagine walking in two boots. But then again, I can't really imagine myself competently balancing on two iWalk's at the the same time either! I wonder what would have happened had you worked in a place with stairs but no loading dock .... :)

    • LongTimeMother profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Australia

      Hello FacingChallenges. I recently added a few more photos to https://hubpages.com/health/Broken-Ankle-x-ray-wit... including a weight-bearing xray. There's a bunch in the series that I didn't put on the hub, but when looking at his weight-bearing xrays the specialist said my husband had cartilage. (Don't know if it shows in the one I put up though.)

      Interesting thing about that was a member of the surgical team had told us they'd had to remove the cartilage and he was destined for arthritis. So either the surgeon was wrong, or my husband managed to replace the cartilage. He was taking mobicosa capsules (and using the gel) I wrote about here ... https://remedygrove.com/remedies/Mobicosa-review-n...

      Mobicosa is a glucosamine (among other things). I don't know how effective other products would be, but hopefully you'll have a similar result to my husband's.

      He had a torn ligament (about fifty percent, torn right through). I think it was the ultrasound test that confirmed that, after the physio had noticed his ankle was rolling when he walked barefoot. They decided to wait and see if it would heal itself. We think it probably has because he no longer has that weakness and rolling problem.

      Good luck with your recovery, FC. I hope you can successfully return to your sports. :)

    • LongTimeMother profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Australia

      Hi FlourishAnyway. Sounds like he should be doing exercises to strengthen his ankles for the future. Did he sprain the other ankle while trying to negotiate his way around on crutches? We have lots of uneven ground on our place and my poor husband was confined to the house for the first few weeks.

      That iWalk does look great. Hopefully none of us will need it, but it is good to know it exists. :)

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      5 years ago from southern USA

      I sprained both ankles at one time one year right before Thanksgiving! Oh, my goodness, what pain. I could not put weight down on either foot of course, and I had the hardest time with crutches. I was wearing those mule boots, where the back of the boot/shoe is open and I stepped into a little dip in our front yard and tried to catch myself with one foot and twisted that ankle and then tried to catch myself with the other ankle and BAM ... down to the ground I fell. Well, I got out of cooking Thanksgiving dinner that year lol. I can laugh about it now, but it sure was not funny in the least. I finally was able to wear two of those boots, and my boss asked me was I trying to start a new fashion trend : ( ... lol Even worse than that, my husband had to drive me to work and drop me off at the loading dock, as I was unable to walk up stairs. Humbling experience. That new iWalk is great!

      Up and more and away

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Hi, I've been reading your posts on your husband's recovery. I dislocated my foot about 5 wks ago and as a consequence of that I have a plate with several screws and a pin, this last one will be removed. I'm on week 4 of not weight bearing. Puf, what difficult injury to deal with. Counting the days to start to be able to begin with physio. I have a question. I'm not so worry about bones healing, I'm pretty sorry though about ligaments and cartilage. Do you have any tips on this? I'm taking glucosamine but I'm just so worry they won't recover enough and will limit my sports options. Thanks in advance. Kind regards, marina.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      5 years ago from USA

      My husband just got over two sprained ankles (!), injured just days apart. I hadn't heard of the iWalk; great idea. Thanks for sharing the information.

    • LongTimeMother profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Australia

      Thanks, Nell. I can't think of any other way to safely carry a hot coffee while on crutches. That convenience alone justifies the cost of buying one. :)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Hiya, as someone who constantly used to sprain her ankle I totally understand this hub, in fact many a time I have been dragged off to hospital with a 'broken' ankle only to find that its just really really sprained badly, I watched the videos, and that new iWalk is a great idea! even for the amputee girl, who found it really useful, great article and really useful stuff, voted up and shared! nell


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