Picture this: You’re enjoying a lively game of football on the weekend. After jumping for a header, you land on your foot and suddenly feel a burst of pain in your ankle. Have you sprained your ankle, or could it be something more serious like a fracture? Read on to learn more about these common ankle injuries and what you should do if you experience them.
Differences Between a Sprained and Fractured Ankle
Sprained ankles are mainly caused by the ligaments of your ankle stretching excessively or tearing. Ligaments are elastic, fibrous tissues that support and stabilise our joints. Unlike tendons, which connect our muscles to bones, ligaments connect bones to other bones. Sprains occur when the ligaments have stretched past their normal range of motion, resulting in overstretching or torn ligaments.
While ankle sprains are among the most common injuries, they are not always minor. Ligament tearing can range from the tearing of a few fibres to a complete tear. In severe cases, sprained ankles can lead to more serious complications and long-term joint pain.
On the other hand, an ankle fracture means that one or more ankle bones have broken. Our ankles are made up of three bones — the fibula, tibia, and talus. A break is the result of the ankle bones being stressed well beyond their normal threshold.
Sprained and fractured ankles have similar causes — mainly physical activity such as high-impact sports. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S., strains and sprains are the most common sports injuries at 41.4% of all diagnosed injuries, with fractures at second place with 20%.
Some of the prevalent causes include:
- Walking or running on uneven surfaces
- Injuries caused by participating in sports, particularly those that involve jumping such as basketball, football, or tennis
- Wearing improper footwear or losing your balance while walking in high heels
- Landing awkwardly on your foot after slipping off a curb
Fractures caused by a sudden impact like the ones listed above are known as traumatic ankle fractures. However, ankle bones may also break due to overuse or repetitive stress. These are known as stress fractures.
How Do I Know if I’ve Sprained or Fractured My Ankle?
Fractures and sprains can be hard to tell apart since they share many of the same symptoms. Not to mention, it is possible to have both at the same time. Common symptoms between both conditions include pain, swelling, bruising, and tenderness when bearing weight on the affected foot.
If you suspect that you have a fracture instead of a sprain, these are the signs to look out for:
- Sprains may be silent or occur with a ‘popping’ sound. If it is a fracture, you may hear a ‘crack’.
- Your ankle looks visibly deformed or misshapen.
- Numbness or a tingling sensation in your foot and toes
- Pain or tenderness when touching directly above your ankle bone
Needless to say, these are only preliminary ways for you to gauge whether you have a sprain or fracture. When in doubt, it is always prudent to consult an orthopaedic specialist for a more accurate diagnosis.
For a Sprained Ankle:
In less serious cases, sprained ankles can be remedied independently at home. Follow the RICE method of treating sports injuries, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Doing this immediately after sustaining the injury will be most effective. You can also take over-the-counter pain medication to relieve any pain or swelling.
If the swelling and pain persist after several days, you might want to seek medical help from a foot and ankle doctor.
For a Fractured Ankle:
Immediate medical attention is a must for fractured ankles, beginning with immobilising the afflicted foot with a cast or crutches. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may require treatments such as closed reduction, surgery, or physical therapy to realign and stabilise your foot.
Consult Your Orthopaedic Doctor If You’re Unsure
It is vital to address foot and ankle injuries as soon as possible as they can lead to long-term problems such as unstable joints and chronic pain. If you are unsure about your condition or if you are in pain, it is better to err on the side of caution and book an appointment with an experienced orthopaedic surgeon in Singapore, especially one with expertise in ankle sprains and fractures.