What Is an Ankle Fracture?
A fracture is a partial or complete break in a bone. Fractures in the ankle can range from the less serious avulsion injuries (small pieces of bone that have been pulled off) to severe shattering-type breaks of the tibia, fibula or both.
Ankle fractures are common injuries most often caused by the ankle rolling inward or outward. Many people mistake an ankle fracture for an ankle sprain, but they are quite different and therefore require an accurate and early diagnosis. They sometimes occur simultaneously.
An ankle fracture is accompanied by one or all of these symptoms:
- Pain at the site of the fracture, which in some cases can extend from the foot to the knee.
- Significant swelling and bruising, which may occur along the length of the leg or may be more localized.
- Blisters may occur over the fracture site. These should be promptly treated by a foot and ankle surgeon.
- Inability to walk; however, it is possible to walk with less severe breaks, so never rely on walking as a test of whether or not a bone has been fractured.
- Change in the appearance of the ankle.
Following an ankle injury, it is important to have the ankle evaluated by a foot and ankle surgeon for proper diagnosis and treatment. If you are unable to do so right away, go to the emergency room and then follow up with a foot and ankle surgeon as soon as possible for a more thorough assessment.
The affected limb will be examined by the foot and ankle surgeon who will touch specific areas to evaluate the injury. In addition, an X-ray of the injured ankle will be taken to determine which bones are broken and to find out the condition of the bones and joint. Xray or other imaging will help determine the proper course of treatment.
Treatment of ankle fractures depends on the type and severity of the injury. At first, the foot and ankle surgeon will want you to follow the RICE protocol. Additional treatment options include:
Splinting or Casting. A splint or cast may need to be placed to support the broken ankle. This usually remains for several days. If the injured ankle is not displaced, a splint may be applied immediately. However, if the bones are displaced or the ankle joint is dislocated, a closed reduction is performed first
When Is Surgery Needed?
For some ankle fractures, surgery is needed to repair the fracture and other soft tissue-related injuries, if present. Often, displaced fractures and fractures of both the tibia and fibula need surgery. Restoring alignment of the broken bones and restoring the ankle joint are essential to full recovery because ankle arthritis can occur if a fracture heals improperly. The foot and ankle surgeon will select the procedure that is appropriate for your injury.