How To Tell If Your Ankle Is Sprained

Have you ever injured an ankle, and asked “did I sprain my ankle?“  Review our handy list of DrSmartphoneMD questions the next time you roll that ankle, be sure to always keep our supplemental health and wellness article close for review.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons says, almost 25,000 people every day sprain an ankle. Considering the experiences of this writer with missteps, twists and rolls this statistic is completely unsurprising. It is far too easy to terrible things to your ankles.

If you just kind of “turn” your ankle, experiencing a little bit of pain and then go on, with perhaps a few careful steps, then everything is good. Things can get a little dicey, though, when your ankle is swells and there is a serious amount of pain. Then you might find yourself asking: “Did I sprain this…or is it broken?!”

These are great questions! First let’s break things down to the actual textbook difference between the a sprain and a break: a sprained ankle is a strain of the ligaments connecting to your bone; a broken, or fractured, ankle is when the bones themselves sustain damage. Keep in mind, however, that if you break your ankle, you may also damage some ligaments along the way.

Now, let’s take a look at things!

What did you do to yourself? If you answer something like, “I was walking and just took a bad step and twisted rolled my ankle,” chances are good that you have lucked out and have a sprain. If the answer flips to, “I tripped and took a tumble, or dropped an anvil on my ankle,” then you are probably the unlucky recipient of a broken ankle.

Did you hear any sounds when the “incident happened? If you answer, “I think I might have heard a kind of popping sound,” the reality is that you’ve probably got a sprain. If you are able to answer in the affirmative a bit more definitively with something like, “I thought it sounded like cracking ice,” then we would wager that you probably have a fracture. If you answer with a bit more humor tinged with terror, “I couldn’t hear anything beyond my own screams and tears of agony,” then that probably is also another massive indicator that you have a fracture.

Does the ankle look swollen? If you can answer “Yes,” then, we are so sorry….you definitely do have some kind of ankle injury.

Is it swollen, but with a pronounced lumpy or crooked appearance? If you answered “Yes,” then we would put good money down on a bet that you have at least a minor fracture.

Do you have any numbness in/around the area of the ankle? If you answered yes, then again, that’s saying, “Broken!”

Can you put any weight on it? If you answer in a very annoyed tone, “Yes, I can, but it really hurts mommy!!” then that ankle injury is probably a sprain. If you can try to put weight on it and your answer is “Ouch!!” followed by a speedy collapse to the ground, then we would suggest that you may have actually broken your ankle.

That last question seems like it should clear everything up, but sometimes a really severe sprain can be so terribly painful that it forces you into a mode of hesitation: “Is this the sign of a bad sprain or a break?” Add to this, high ankle sprains also make it difficult to put any weight at all on the foot; the main difference there is that the pain with a broken ankle is more localized and there’s likely to be swelling and perhaps some yellowish bruising, while high ankle sprains often don’t typically look bad. They just feel bad.

In the end, if you’re not sure, the best thing to do is see a doctor as soon as possible to get a clear diagnosis, most likely by having some x-rays done. We know that no one wants to go to a doctor if they don’t have to, especially if you’re asking yourself the “broken or sprained” question late at night or while you’re on vacation, and your only option is a long wait in an emergency room. But if you go without a correct diagnosis and you let an injury linger without the right treatment you’re going to create more trouble for yourself than if you just had it checked out in the first place. So get that ankle checked out!

Sprains, Strains and Breaks!


A sprain is typically caused by trauma like a fall, twist or some kind of blow to the body that knocks a joint out of position and overstretches or even ruptures supporting ligaments. A good example of this is when your son or daughter lands on an outstretched arm, sliding into a base.

Although the intensity of symptoms varies, pain, bruising and inflammation are common to all three categories of sprains: mild, moderate and severe.

Sprains happen most often in the ankle, and become more likely if you’ve had a previous sprain there.


Acute strains are caused by stretching or pulling a muscle or tendon. Their counterpart, the chronic strains are the result of overuse of muscles and tendons, through prolonged, repetitive movement. With a mild strain, the muscle or tendon is stretched or pulled, slightly.

These are some common strains:

  • Back strain. When the muscles that support the spine become twisted, pulled or torn. Athletes who engage in excessive jumping, like that experienced during basketball or volleyball, are particularly vulnerable to this injury.
  • Hamstring muscle strain. A tear or stretch of a major muscle that runs along the back of the thigh. The injury can sideline a person for as much as a half of a year. The most likely cause is muscle strength imbalance between the hamstrings and the quadriceps muscle group, which are the muscles in the front of the thigh. Kicking a football, running or leaping to make a basket in basketball can pull a hamstring. The worst thing about hamstring injuries, is that they tend to recur on an alarming basis.


Bone breaks, unlike sprains and muscle strains, should always be looked at by a professional health care provider to ensure proper healing of the body. Call your health care provider if the pain does not subside.

Is it a sprained ankle?