The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Is My Ankle Sprained, Strained, or Fractured? Learn What to Watch for and How to Deal with Ankle Injuries

Posted by on Friday, October 30th, 2015


It’s okay, sports fans…it happens to the best of us. We’re jogging, running, playing a game of tackle football, dodging a misplaced child’s toy, or stumbling over our pets. We’ve all been in an awkward position where our brains and our feet are not operating cohesively as a unit and we come down with a tumble. The natural impulse is to shake it off. People trip and roll their ankles all the time, right? If you can put some weight on the ankle, surely it can’t be broken. Yet, after a few days, the nagging pain has you wondering. NYC podiatrists at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine offer a few tips for assessing your ankle injury.

ankle sprain
Is my ankle sprained, strained, or fractured? NYC podiatrists discuss the possibilities. Image source: Flickr CC user Keirsten Marie

A Few Ankle Injury Questions to Ask Yourself:

Do you have pain just above the anklebone a day after the injury occurred during a run? 

If so, you may have an ankle strain or sprain. A strain involves an overstretched (or sometimes partially torn) tendon, whereas a sprain is an overstretched (or partially torn) ligament. Either way, you’ll need to employ standard Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation (RICE) treatment and take anti-inflammatory medication for the next 24-48 hours. That should get you back on your feet within a week. Don’t try to run until you can stand on the injured ankle and do a few pain-free toe raises. Before you shrug off this type of “seemingly innocuous” ankle injury, be sure to read what we have to say about the dangers of inadequate care.

Does your ankle hurt more early in a run or after a run, but disappear as you work out?

If so, you may have tendinitis, an inflammation of the tendon caused by over-training, improper footwear, or low arches/flat feet. A tell-tale sign of an Achilles tendon injury is pain when you pinch the tendon running up the back of your heel. Ice the injured ankle for 10-15 minutes several times a day, and treat pain and swelling with anti-inflammatory medication. You should also try performing gentle stretching exercises at home.

You can expect a good four to six weeks off training to allow adequate time for recovery.1 (Achilles tendinitis tends to come back and dog athletes, so it’s not an injury you want to rush!) Instead, switch to gentle stretching, upper body strength training, and low-impact swimming. When you resume your running, cut back on your mileage and run on softer surfaces like indoor running tracks or treadmills.

Are you unable to run with your injury? Is it bruised and tender to the touch? Have you had injuries to this foot or ankle in the past?

If so, you might have a stress fracture. These tiny cracks in the bone form when the muscles fail to fully absorb the impact of your physical activity. Rest, anti-inflammatories, stretching, and muscle-strengthening treatments all apply here, but it’s also a good idea to have a doctor assess the injury with an image scan to note healing progress. On average, it takes about six weeks for a stress fracture to heal.

Did you twist your ankle more than two weeks ago but it’s still swollen, bruised, aching, or even throbbing?

If so, you may have a full-blown fracture. Podiatrists like to call the ankle “the great pretender of the body,” since more serious fractures are often concealed without x-rays and seemingly minor injuries can easily turn out to be something much worse. Immobilization is key with significant fractures. Most often, we’ll put it in an aircast, walking boot, or immobilizing brace, occasionally a cast.

In the meantime, follow the RICE protocol and try to ice 2-3 times a day for 20-minute intervals. Instead of complete rest, you can do some early motion to facilitate recovery. Podiatrists often recommend that you try tracing the letters of the alphabet with your feet to run through the full range of motion and encourage blood flow to the region.2 Initially, this will be painful and the letters will be small. As you heal, you should be able to make the letters larger with diminished pain levels.

For more help with ankle injury rehabilitation and diagnosis in NYC, contact The Center for Podiatric Care & Sports Medicine.




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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.