When you have an ankle injury, knowing whether it’s a break or a sprain is important to getting you back on your feet. If left untreated, ankle injuries can cause chronic pain and limit your mobility.
A sprained ankle happens when you stretch or tear a ligament—the tissue that connects two bones and stabilizes your joints. With a mild sprain, your ligament is overextended but the ankle joint remains stable. If it’s a severe sprain, your ligaments may tear completely and separate from the bone.
A broken or fractured ankle occurs when one or more of the bones in your ankle chips off, cracks or breaks completely. A pilon fracture is a break in your tibia and fibula—two bones in the lower leg that are part of your ankle. Fractures are often caused by a fall or a car accident.
When a break occurs in the bone (fibula) on the outside of the lower leg, it’s called a lateral malleolar fracture. It is a common ankle injury caused by twisting or rolling of the foot and ankle or a direct blow to the ankle.
There are two main types of fractures. With a closed fracture, the bone is broken but your skin remains intact. If the broken bone pokes through the skin or is exposed by a deep wound it’s an open fracture, it is treated as an emergency.