A broken ankle, or ankle fracture can involve any of the many bones in the ankle joint. The symptoms, treatment, and recovery from an ankle fracture will depend on the location, nature, and severity of the fracture. For example, simple fractures to a single bone may heal with immobilization, other more complicated fractures can require surgery and require months of limited activity and medical attention.
Read on to learn more about ankle anatomy and the causes, symptoms, and treatment of ankle fracture.
Anatomy of the ankle
The ankle is composed of three major bones—the tibia (shin bone), talus (foot bone), and fibula (small bone at the outer ankle). More specifically, the ankle is made up of the following parts of those bones:
- Medial malleolus: Inside part of the tibia
- Posterior malleolus: Back part of the tibia
- Lateral malleolus: End of the fibula
Fractures of the ankle can involve one or more of these bones in the actual ankle joint or in the joint between the tibia and fibula (called the syndesmosis). Ankle fractures may also involve damage to the surrounding muscles or ligaments that function to stabilize the ankle joint.
Cause of Ankle Fracture
Ankle fracture can be caused by impact in a motor vehicle accident or in incidences that cause one to (1) trip or fall on the ankle, (2) roll the ankle, or (3) twist or rotate the ankle.
Symptoms of ankle fracture can include:
- Instant moderate to severe pain
- Inability to put any weight on the ankle
- Deformity of the ankle area, especially if ankle dislocation has occurred.
Treatment of Ankle Fracture
After determining the nature and extent of ankle fracture through x-ray, CT scan, and/or MRI, a doctor will determine the proper course of treatment.
If the bone is stable and has not suffered too much displacement, non-surgical methods may be sufficient to facilitate the healing process. A fracture can be stabilized and protected using anything from a high-top shoe to a brace to a cast, depending on the location and severity of the ankle fracture. Rest, ice, and elevation, in addition to restricted activity, will be an essential part of the healing process.
With ankle fractures that are unstable and/or significantly displaced, surgery may be required. Pins, screws, and/or plates may be used to internally stabilize the fracture and realign the bones. Given the specific type of ankle fracture, other surgical methods may be employed.
Following surgery, a doctor will recommend a specific program for rehabilitating the ankle. Physical therapy or a home-based exercise program may be recommended. It can take several months for an ankle fracture to heal. During this time, activities may be limited and the ankle may continue to be painful and stiff.
With any type of ankle fracture, it is a good idea to ask your orthopedic specialist the following questions about your injury:
- What is the specific location and extent of my injury?
- Do I have a weak bone?
- Do I have any risks of complication based on my age and health?
- How long will I be unable to put weight on my leg?
- How long will I be off work?
- What are the risks of surgery?
- What can I expect following surgery, both in the short and long term?