During the physical exam of a sprained ankle, your doctor will check for points of tenderness. He or she will move the joint in a variety of ways to check your range of motion and to see if any particular position or movement causes pain.
If the injury is severe, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following imaging scans to rule out a broken bone or to more precisely evaluate the soft tissue damage:
- X-ray. During an X-ray, a small amount of radiation passes through your body to produce images of your internal structures. This test is good for evaluating bones, but is less effective at visualizing soft tissues. Tiny cracks or stress fractures in bones may not show up, especially at first, on regular X-rays.
- Bone scan. For a bone scan, a technician will inject a small amount of radioactive material into an intravenous line. The radioactive material is attracted to your bones, especially the parts of your bones that have been damaged. Damaged areas show up as bright spots on an image taken by a scanner. Bone scans are good at detecting stress fractures.
- Computerized tomography (CT). CT scans are useful because they can reveal more detail about the bones of the joint. CT scans take X-rays from many different angles and combine them to make cross-sectional images of internal structures of your body.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRIs use radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of internal structures. This technology is exceptionally good at visualizing soft tissue injuries.