Treatment room: break vs sprain

Host: Dr Andrew Rochford
Tuesday, May 12, 2009

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How do you know if you have sprained or broken your ankle?
Most of us have twisted an ankle at some point in our lives, but how can you tell if it's broken or not?

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A break is a fracture of one of the bones in the ankle; most commonly the small outside bone, called the fibula, is the one that breaks. An ankle sprain is a tear of one of the six ligaments in the ankle.

When trying to work out if it's a sprain or break, the best place to start if your common sense. If it's deformed, changing colour or there is any numbness it's probably going to need an X-ray.

But if you are unsure, a simple self-examination may help you to tell if you need to get an X-ray.

Find the bony points on the inside (medial malleolus) and outside of your ankle (lateral malleolus). If you press on those points and you get any kind of pain, or you can't put weight through the foot for at least four steps you need to go and get an X-ray. But if you get neither reaction then maybe it is just a sprain.

How do you treat a sprain?
The best way to manage a sprain is to start with resting; get yourself off your feet. Then get some ice, put it on the swollen area for at least 20 minutes, then take the ice off and give the skin a break from the coldness. The next thing you need to do is apply compression using a simple compression bandage, wrapped firmly around the ankle.

Last but not least you need to elevate your foot, as swelling and inflammation in the area will only make your recovery slower.

It all comes back to common sense. If after three or four days you feel like you are getting nowhere and there is no improvement, you need to go and see your doctor and get your foot it X-rayed.


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