How can you tell whether an ankle is broken or just sprained?



The foot and ankle are complex parts of the body. Sometimes it is impossible to tell what the injury is without an X-ray or other tests, such as a bone scan or MRI (magnetic resonance image). Computed tomography (CT scan) is also helpful for seeing if there is serious damage to a bone. If there is pain, swelling, tenderness to touch, redness, decreased motion, and inability to put weight on the foot, then a visit to the doctor is necessary.


When in doubt, you can use the RICE advice. These four letters stand for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.



  • Rest the sore ankle so it can begin healing.

  • Ice the ankle for 20 minutes every three to four hours.

  • Compress the joint with an elastic wrap or splint.

  • Elevate the sore and swollen limb for 24 hours.

If after 24 hours the symptoms are much improved and it is possible to put full weight on the ankle, a fracture is unlikely. If there is little or no change in how the ankle looks and feels, see your doctor.