Sprained vs. Dislocated Ankle: How to Tell the Difference and Get Treatment

by Medical XPress

Young woman with wrapped ankle resting on pillow on sofaRolling and spraining an ankle is a relatively common injury, especially among those who are quite active. In fact, ankles in general are one of the most frequently injured joints in the body. While spraining your ankle can be a painful shock and require weeks of rest and recovery, the severity pales in comparison to a dislocated ankle. How can you tell if your ankle is dislocated or simply sprained, and how can you get the treatment you need? Keep reading to learn the differences between these two very similar injuries.

The Injuries

First, let’s discuss what the actual differences are between these two types of injuries. A sprain occurs when the ligaments in the joint are stretched or twisted in a way that they are not designed to move. In cases of very serious sprains, you may actually tear one or more of the ligaments in your ankle joint.

In the cases of a dislocation, the bones in the ankle experience an abnormal separation that can cause the talus bone to slip behind the other ankle bones. It can also be pushed to the side, front, or even upwards. Often, an ankle dislocation occurs in conjunction with a break in the ankle bones, but that is not always the case.

The Symptoms

Sprains and dislocations can have very similar symptoms. Both can cause instantaneous pain, and either injury may be accompanied by a popping sound or sensation from the joint. Additionally, you may struggle to place weight on a sprained ankle; however, most people can typically manage to limp along when the joint is only sprained. By comparison, you will likely be completely incapable of bearing weight on the injured joint if it’s been dislocated. You may also notice all or some of the following symptoms that will differentiate a dislocation from a sprain:

  • Severe pain that does not diminish
  • Noticeable bruising and swelling around the joint
  • Very tender to the touch
  • Inability to rotate the ankle
  • An abnormal appearance (an odd angle, unnatural twist in the joint, or a jutting bone)

The symptoms almost always indicate that your joint has been dislocated, and you should seek treatment right away.

The Treatment

Treatment for a sprained ankle is most often the R.I.C.E. method: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. It’s important to give the joint plenty of time to recover before gradually increasing your physical activity. You may also use anti-inflammatory medications to help with inflammation and pain management; icing the joint every few hours can also help with this. Many times, individuals with a sprained ankle can manage their own treatment and recovery, though you should still consult with a doctor and/or physical therapist to ensure that you’re not attempting too much activity too quickly after your injury.

A dislocated ankle often requires much more intense treatment and always requires professional medical treatment. The exact treatment, however, will vary depending on its severity. In less severe cases of dislocation, a doctor will perform a closed reduction, which you may know as “popping” the joint back into place. This is much more complex than it may appear on TV and should never be attempted alone! After the closed reduction has been done, your doctor will likely prescribe pain medication and a splint to hold your ankle in place until the swelling goes down, at which point you would be switched to a boot or a cast. You will also likely need to follow the R.I.C.E. method, as well as receive physical therapy to help you get back to your normal activity levels.

In more severe cases of dislocation, you will likely need ankle surgery to restructure and stabilize the ankle. As we’ve already mentioned, ankle dislocations are often accompanied by a broken ankle bone, so the surgery can also help to reset these bones. After the ankle has been reset, you will likely need a cast, followed by ample rest. You should use crutches or a knee scooter to help you get around without putting any weight on the injured joint.

The Equipment

If you’ve dislocated or sprained your ankle and need medical supplies or equipment to aid in your recovery, please call or stop by Medical Xpress today. We can provide you with ice packs, compression bandages, knee scooters, crutches, and more, based on your doctor’s recommendations.