How a broken ankle happens
A broken ankle, also known as an ankle fracture, is a common but serious injury sustained when some kind of external force is applied to the foot compromising one or more of the bones. Broken ankles affect a large part of the population, and men and women of all ages may be susceptible to a broken ankle, regardless of activity level.
Three bones make up the ankle: the tibia, or shin bone; the fibula; and the talus, a small bone resting between the heel bone and the tibia/fibula. The location of the break in your ankle, as well as the severity and mechanism of the injury, will impact your recovery plan and timeline. A sudden or violent twisting or rolling of your ankle, such as might be common in high-impact sports, may cause a broken ankle. Falling from height, stepping on an object while walking or running, or trauma in a bike or car accident are other common causes of ankle fractures.
How to know if you have a broken ankle
As with any other type of fracture, pain near the broken bone, bruising, swelling or redness, tenderness, visible deformity, and inability to move or bear weight on the ankle are all common signs of a broken ankle. Not all fractures exhibit each symptom.
How to diagnose a broken ankle
Your physician will conduct a physical/visual examination and discuss the history of your injury. An X-ray, MRI or CT scan may also be ordered to confirm the location and severity of the break.
How is a broken ankle treated?
If you sustain a broken ankle or foot, your physician will review your imaging to determine if the fracture is stable or unstable. In a stable fracture, the bones remain properly aligned despite the break. In this case, the physician may not recommend surgery in favor of stabilizing and protecting the ankle as it heals. This may be accomplished by wearing a cast or protective boot for several weeks after the injury. Additional measures, such as a padded orthotic sole may be prescribed to lower the weight burden on the ankle and provide some level of additional comfort. A follow-up appointment will be scheduled after several weeks to review the progression of healing in the ankle. Over-the-counter medication may be used to treat pain and inflammation, as necessary.
If the fracture is unstable and bones are out of place, surgery will be required to set the fracture. The bones will be reduced and fixed into their normal position so that they maintain properly alignment during healing. This is typically accomplished through the use of implanted hardware such as pins, plates or screws. Some or all of this hardware may be removed once healing is complete, but some may remain to protect future displacement.
The prognosis is good for patients, regardless of treatment method, and they can usually return to full function within eight to ten weeks or less.