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Ankle Fracture

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 that are 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.

Signs & Symptoms

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, 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.

  • Bruising that develops soon after the injury.

  • Inability to walk—however, it is possible to walk with less severe breaks, so never rely on walking as a test of whether a bone has been fractured.

  • Change in the appearance of the ankle – it will look different from the other ankle.

  • Bone protruding through the skin—a sign that immediate care is needed. Fractures that pierce the skin require immediate attention because they can lead to severe infection and prolonged recovery.

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:

  • Rest. Stay off the injured foot and ankle, since walking can cause pain or further damage.

  • Ice. Apply a bag of ice covered with a thin towel to reduce swelling and pain. Do not put ice directly against the skin.

  • Compression. Wrap the foot and ankle in an elastic bandage to prevent further swelling.

  • Elevation. Keep the leg elevated to reduce the swelling. It should be even with or slightly above heart level.

Additional treatment options include:

  • Immobilization. Certain fractures are treated by protecting and restricting the ankle and foot in a cast or splint. This allows the bone to heal.

  • Surgery. For some ankle fractures, surgery is needed to repair the fracture and other soft tissue-related injuries, if present. The foot and ankle surgeon will select the procedure that is appropriate for your injury.

Follow-Up Care

It is important to follow your surgeon’s instructions after treatment. Failure to do so can lead to infection, deformity, arthritis and chronic pain.