There are two types of clues as to whether a bone is broken or not. They’re called signs and symptoms. Symptoms are things only the patient can feel while signs are things anyone (patient or not) can see or touch. Basically, to stick with the sign terminology, these are things you can read.
The Only Symptom of a Broken Ankle
To get symptoms out of the way, you should know that a broken ankle has a specific pain.
The only sure-fire way to know if any bone is broken is by seeing the actual broken bone. That’s the sign, the one that clears up any doubt.
You definitely can see if a bone is broken by looking at it directly with the naked eye, but there’s usually a bunch of pesky flesh and blood in the way. Usually, you need to use an X-ray to see a broken bone.1
Of course, when the broken ends of a femur are sticking out of your thigh, it’s pretty much a dead giveaway. Barring either a really nasty compound fracture—or a creepy zombie style cutaway just to get a look—you’ll need that X-ray.
At the end, I’ll show you what a broken ankle can look like on an X-ray (albeit, in this case, with a really tiny fracture). For now, let’s concentrate on the signs of a broken ankle we usually can see, and we’ll start with deformity.