How to Tell the Difference between Bone Damage and Ligament Damage in Ankle Sprains

Having an injury in your ankle can leave you out of commission for a period of time and in a significant amount of pain. Ankle sprains, fractures, and other ankle injuries can all present with similar symptoms.

It can be hard to tell the difference between the different types of ligament and bone damage you can get from ankle sprains and other ankle injuries, and different injuries require different treatment. With an office visit at Podiatry Hotline Foot & Ankle in Mission Viejo, California, you can not only learn the cause of your ankle pain, you can also ensure you get the right treatment for your injury.

Keep reading to learn from board-certified podiatrists, Dr. Thomas Rambacher and Dr. Michael Bastani about the different types of ligament and bone damage that can occur from ankle sprains, and how you can get treatment.

What are ankle sprains?

Ankle sprains are an injury caused by trauma or repetitive stress to your ankle. Anyone can sprain their ankle, but they’re an especially common sports injury.

Initially, ankle sprains typically present with injuries to an area of ligaments and soft tissues. Symptoms of a sprained ankle usually start immediately, including pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness in the area.

The severity of ankle sprains can vary from mild to severe, and depending on the severity, you can range from your ankle feeling slightly unstable when you walk to not being able to bear weight at all. 

The difference between ligament and bone ankle sprain damage

There are two types of damage that can occur from an ankle sprain: ligament and bone damage. It’s not always possible to tell which type of damage you have from symptoms alone, but our doctors can determine which type of damage you have from a full evaluation.

Ligament ankle sprain damage

All ankle injuries start out with damage to your ligaments and soft tissues. Ligaments are tissues that connect your bones to one another.

Depending on the severity of the ligament damage, your ligament sprain can range from causing mild pain and swelling to not being able to walk at all. 

Bone ankle sprain damage

Sometimes, ankle sprains can also involve damage to the surrounding bones. This can be because you fractured bones in your ankle in addition to spraining the ligaments, meaning you have a fracture and sprain concurrently.

Other times, you can develop bone damage from a condition called osteochondritis dissecans (OCD). OCD often occurs after an ankle sprain or similar injury and causes bone and cartilage in your ankle to separate.

You get OCD as a result of the impacted ankle bones losing access to their blood supply after injury or trauma. OCD is more common in children and adolescents but can also occur in adults. 

OCD causes similar symptoms to the ligament damage from a sprained ankle initially, including difficulty bearing weight on your ankle, stiffness, pain, and swelling. Untreated, it can lead to complications like severe arthritis.

Treating different kinds of ankle sprains

After determining the type of ankle sprain you have, our doctors develop a treatment plan to treat your sprain and any co-occurring OCD or fracture. Many types of ankle sprains can be treated conservatively. 

Conservative treatment includes following RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) protocol, taking medications to ease the pain and swelling, a brace or cast, and physical therapy. If these measures don’t work, you might need to get surgery.

The kind of surgery you’ll need depends on the severity of your ligament sprain or OCD injury. Our doctors use the most minimally invasive techniques possible for your surgery and ensure you fully understand the procedure and post-operative recovery before operating.

If your ankle is painful or injured, you might have a sprained ankle or another ankle injury. For a full evaluation and treatment, call us, or schedule an appointment online.

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