Understand the Difference Between a Broken or Sprained Ankle:


Broken vs. Sprained AnkleA broken or sprained ankle is a common injury in children and adolescents. The bones in the ankle comprise the tibia (the shin bone) and the fibula (the smaller bone found outside the ankle). These two bones have growth plates at their ends. When adolescents or children break their ankles, the damage often goes through the growth plate. In some cases, it can also go to the joint surface. Treatment for these injuries may be simple while severe ankle breaks may require ankle surgery.

When a child hurts his or her ankle, parents get worried that they have a broken or sprained ankle. Differentiating between these two injuries can be a daunting task. Doctors can make an accurate diagnosis through X-rays or other forms of imaging tests. In this guide, we will consider the differences between a sprained and broken ankle and how Medical City Children’s Orthopedics and Spine Specialists can help your child get back on his or her feet as soon as possible.

What Is a Sprained Ankle?

A sprained ankle refers to an injury that affects the ligaments of the ankle. Ligaments are connective tissues that hold the ankle bones together and stabilize the joint.

Ankle sprains usually occur when your child suddenly twists his or her foot or overstretches the ligaments. It is rare for the inner ligaments to get sprained; thus, the ligaments in the outer part of the foot are usually sprained.

Some of the causes of a sprained ankle are highlighted below:

  • Walking or running on a surface that is not even
  • Rolling your ankle while running or walking
  • Twisting your while you’re falling
  • Landing on the side of the foot while jumping, running, or pivoting
  • Someone landing on your foot while participating in sports

Sprained ankles are mostly minor injuries. However, they can be severe if much damage is done to the ligaments. The severity of a sprained ankle depends on the following:

Grade 1 Sprain

This is a form of ankle sprain where one or more ligaments are overstretched without being torn. If your child has this kind of ankle sprain, he or she can walk normally after some days. The injury will heal within two weeks.

Grade 2 Sprain

In this case, a ligament is partially torn. The doctor will be able to feel instability when the ankle is moved. This type of ankle sprain takes between 6 and 8 weeks to heal.

Grade 3 Sprain

In this type of ankle sprain, the ligament is completely torn. If your child has this type of sprained ankle, he or she will take about 3 to 6 months to heal.

What Is A Broken Ankle?

A broken ankle is an ankle injury that occurs when one or more of the bones around the ankle joint breaks.

The ankle joint comprises three bones as listed below:

  • Tibia (or shinbone)
  • Fibula (the smaller long bone in the lower leg)
  • Talus (the bone above the heel bone and below the fibula and tibia)

Broken bones are usually responsible for about 15 percent of ankle injuries in emergency departments.

There are different causes of a broken ankle. The condition usually occurs from a twisting injury. It can also be caused by a direct impact on the ankle, like a sports-related accident or vehicle accident.

If your child has a clean break that does not need an operation, healing will normally occur within 6 to 8 weeks

Difference Between A Sprained Ankle and a Broken Ankle

The main difference between a sprained ankle and a broken ankle is that a break in the bone needs to occur to have a broken ankle. Any break, crack, or chip that occurs in the ankle bone is categorized as a broken ankle. A sprained ankle is considered an injury in which there is a disruption of the ligaments.

If a severe injury is inflicted on the ankle, it can consist of a broken ankle and a sprained ankle at the same time. Depending on how severe the break or sprain is, a sprained ankle may have a worse prognosis than a broken bone.

Another way to distinguish between a sprained ankle and a broken ankle is their symptoms. Both injuries have similar symptoms and the symptoms are difficult to differentiate, especially in serious cases that have lots of swelling.

Symptoms of Sprained Ankles

  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Pain
  • Bruising
  • Popping sensation
  • Instability
  • Restricted movement

Symptoms of a Broken Ankle

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Immediate sharp pain
  • Difficulty in bearing weight on the foot
  • Visible deformity


If you think your child has a sprained or broken ankle, it is important to seek medical attention. The doctor will examine the ankle, foot, and lower part of your child’s leg carefully. They will also check your child’s foot to see if it is tender and will also move his or her foot to determine how well they can move the ankle joint.

If your child has a more severe injury, the doctor will recommend one or more of these tests to diagnose the injury with better accuracy:

  • X-ray
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • Ultrasound

Caring for Your Child’s Sprained Ankle At Home

If your child sprained his or her ankle, you can use first aid principles (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (RICE) technique) and ankle exercises. The ankle should get treated immediately and it should continue for the next three days.


Rest your child’s sprained ankle and ensure he or she does not do anything that will cause a lot of pain. If your child is finding it difficult to walk, let him or her use crutches.


Apply ice to the affected area for about 10 to 15 minutes. Do not place the ice directly on the skin to prevent it from burning the skin. Instead, wrap the ice in a tea towel.


Use a bandage that is not too tight and does not inhibit blood flow or cause pain. Ensure that the bandage covers from above the ankle down to the foot. It must not cover the toes.


To prevent swelling, raise the ankle whenever it’s possible to do so. For instance, raise the injured leg and place it on some pillows while your child is resting, reading, or watching TV.

Some children will require medications to help ease the pain. Your child should avoid the following within the first two or three days after sustaining the ankle injury:

  • Heat: Heat packs and hot baths increase blood flow and also cause the swelling to get worse.
  • Re-Injury: The ankle joint should be protected from re-injury by not putting weight on it and also moving carefully.

Which Doctor Treats A Broken Ankle?

A general practitioner (such as a family doctor, pediatrician, and internist) can diagnose a broken ankle. A broken ankle can also be diagnosed by an emergency medicine doctor in a hospital. Your child may be referred to a podiatrist (a foot specialist) or an orthopedic surgeon for further treatment of the injury based on how severe the affected area is or if the need for surgery arises.

When to See A Doctor

Your child needs to see a doctor if you notice any of the following:

  • Your child’s ankle is not healing the way it should.
  • The ankle gets worse.
  • Your child’s ankle is red and he or she develops a fever.
  • Your child still has difficulty walking and feels pain after 2 days.

Treatment at Medical City Children’s Orthopedics and Spine Specialists

Orthopedic doctors can treat broken and sprained ankles very effectively. Treatment involves relieving pain, fixing damaged bones or ligaments, and restoring function. Parents can treat mild sprains at home by combining the rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) technique. This technique reduces swelling and inflammation. You can also use over-the-counter pain medications.

Broken ankles and severely sprained ankles need emergency medical attention. The treatment for these types of ankle injuries may include a cast, splint or brace, weight-bearing restrictions, and surgery to effectively set the broken bones and help with healing. Physical therapy can also be incorporated into the treatment plan.

At Medical City Children’s Orthopedics and Spine Specialists with offices in Arlington, Dallas, Friscoand McKinney, TX our expert physicians provide industry-leading experience and expertise to create the best treatment plan to get your child back on his or her feet as soon as possible. Our team, comprising Dr. Kishan, Dr. Hostin, and Dr. Wiesman, will study and treat issues affecting your child’s growing bones, joints, and muscles. Our orthopedic surgeons and physicians will work with your child to provide the least invasive treatment.

Finally, if you think your child has broken or sprained their ankle, schedule an appointment with our physicians for a treatment plan designed for your child. Kindly call (214) 556-0590 to make an appointment.


WebMD: Broken or Sprained Ankle