Also known as a broken ankle, ankle fractures refer to a break in one or more bones that make up the ankle joint.
Fractures in the ankle can range from less serious avulsion injuries (a fragment of the bone is pulled away) to severe fractures, which may involve shattering-type breaks of the tibia, fibula, or both.
Causes and Risk Factors
Crushing injuries from car accidents, falls, dropping something heavy on the foot, twisting the ankle, and degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis can lead to a broken ankle.
There are groups of people who are at higher risk of suffering from a broken ankle. These include athletes participating in high-impact sports, people who work in certain environments where there is a risk of falling from a certain height or dropping something heavy on the foot, and those who have conditions affecting the bone density (an example is osteoporosis).
Signs and Symptoms
Pain is the most common complaint of people suffering from a broken ankle. It’s the pain in the site that usually keeps them from walking.
Aside from the pain, there can also be swelling around the ankle. The swelling may indicate that there is soft tissue damage or buildup of fluid within the joint.
Discoloration, tenderness, and obvious deformity may also be observed when one has a broken ankle.
When to See a Doctor
Professional medical care is needed if there is difficulty in bearing the weight on the ankle, the pain remains intolerable even after taking over-the-counter pain medications, and symptoms do not seem to improve with home remedies.
Diagnosing an ankle fracture usually involves a physical exam wherein the doctor checks for points of tenderness in the foot and ankle. This is to determine the location of the pain and the underlying cause of it.
The patient may also be asked to move the foot in different directions and to walk a short distance to determine a change (if any) in the gait.
If a broken ankle is suspected, the doctor may order imaging tests such as X-rays, bone scans, computerized tomography (CT) scan, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to confirm the diagnosis.
Managing Ankle Fracture
There are different ways of managing a fractured ankle.
If the ankle is stable, the symptoms can be alleviated with nonsurgical means such as elevation, application of cold compress, placing of a splint to support the broken ankle, rest, or application of cast or fracture boot to protect and immobilize the affected site.
Surgery is usually recommended for badly displaced fractures and for fractures involving both the tibia and the fibula.
Open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) is a known surgical treatment for a broken ankle. In this procedure, the bone fragments are first repositioned into their normal alignment before they are held together by special screws and metal plates. During the recovery process, the joint is protected through restricted movement and by wearing a cast or fractured boot for about 2 to 3 months.