An ankle fracture, or broken ankle, occurs when there is a break in one or more bones of the ankle joint. There are three bones that make up the ankle: the tibia (bone on inner part of ankle), fibula (bone on outer-facing part of ankle) and talus. Many ligaments and fibers hold these bones in place.
You can have a simple fracture that involves breaking a bone or multiple fractures where a number of these bones are broken.
The ankle joint can move in several ways, such as flexion, extension, inversion and eversion. It can also combine two or more of these movements. This helps it to move and balance your body when on level or uneven ground. The ankle bears the full weight of the body, especially when running and jumping. Ankle fractures are among the most common form of bone and joint injuries. It has an incidence of up to 174 cases per 100,000 adults per year. Ankle fracture is common in people of all ages, especially among baby boomers.
Causes of Ankle Fractures
Ankle fractures occur as a result of stressing the ankle joint beyond the strength of its compositions. For instance, if you break one or more of the bones in the ankle, you have a fracture. You can also have a fracture when there is a simultaneous tear of the ligaments. This can occur when:
- You roll your ankle inside or outside
- You twist your ankle from side to side
- You over-flex the joint of the ankle
- You apply heavy force on the joint
- You suffer trauma or a crush injury, as in impact during a car accident
Symptoms of a Broken Ankle
When you have an ankle fracture, the following symptoms are noticeable:
- Severe pain in the ankle that can stop you from walking and make even standing unbearable.
- Swelling of the ankle joint. This occurs as a result of soft tissue damage with blood or fluid in the joint.
- Bruising around the joint. This can also extend towards the sole of your foot or even the toes.
- In severe cases, you will notice some deformity of the bones around your ankle.
Treatment of Ankle Fractures
Home Care Treatments
- Stop walking with the injured ankle to avoid sustaining further injuries
- Raise the fractured ankle to reduce swelling and pain
- Place a cold ice pack on the injured ankle to reduce swelling and pain. This will help for the first 48 hours
- Use over-the-counter drugs, such as Advil and Motrin. They will help to reduce the pain and the swelling.
The above treatments are best suited to reducing pain and inflammation following an injury, and when it’s not possible to immediately see a medical professional.
Given the importance and complexity of the ankle joint, if you suspect a fracture, you should schedule an appointment with your podiatrist or visit an ER. This is especially urgent if you notice the following conditions:
- You can see bones coming out of your skin (compound fracture)
- The pain is not reducing in intensity
- You can’t move your toes or ankle
- Your ankle is cold or blue.
Following examination by your foot doctor, you will be advised on the type of treatment that is appropriate for your ankle. If the bones are not arranged properly, the doctor may realign them and then put them in cast or splint.
If the bones do not align properly, you may require surgery. Compound fractures will also result in an operation. Recovery from a broken ankle will usually take a minimum of 6-8 weeks (multiple fractures and soft tissue damage may extend that to 6+ months), and the use of a cast or air splint to immobilize the joint. Your podiatrist will issue guidelines for when you can resume weight-bearing activities, as well as simple movements you can perform to enhance flexibility and range of motion during recovery.
Don’t take chances with a broken ankle. If an ankle fracture is left untreated, you risk damaging the long-term stability of the ankle joint. This can increase pain and impede normal movement. Avoid further damage to your ankle and schedule an appointment with Houston podiatrist Gabriel Maislos, DPM, FACFAS. At Houston Foot and Ankle Care, we treat foot and ankle fractures, as well as other common foot conditions like bunions, heel pain, ingrown toenails and more. Call (713) 541-3199 for more information. We accept most major forms of medical insurance.