Ankle Fractures (Broken Ankle)

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Ankle Fractures (Broken Ankle)

A broken ankle or fractured ankle happens when one or more of the many bones that make up the ankle joint is broken. A fractured ankle can happen with a simple break in one bone, which might slow a person down but not necessarily interfere with normal walking. An ankle fracture can involve several fractures, that forces the ankle out of place and may require months to fully heal. Ultimately the more bones that are involved in the break, the more unstable the ankle becomes. Severe ankle fractures can also result in damaged ligaments, which normally hold the ankle bones and joint in position.

Broken ankles are usually caused by a rotational injury, where the ankle becomes twisted, turned, or rolled to the side while walking or running. Ankle fracture can happen due to a a high-force impact, such as from a fall, an automobile, motorcycle, or bicycle accident. Sudden breaks stemming from a high speed incident or injury are called traumatic ankle fractures. Repetitive stress or repeated impact can also damage the bone and ligaments of the ankle and when that happens, it is called a stress fracture.

An ankle stress fracture happens to patients all too often after they launch into a new activity that involves significant impact to the foot like jogging, hiking, marathon running or field sports. Athletes also experience ankle stress fractures on occasions of sudden bursts of activity, as when a seasoned short distance runner begins to train for a long marathon.

Because the ankle joint consists of three major bones, there are numerous types of ankle fractures. Fractures can occur in each of these areas or in combination. Since a severe ankle sprain can feel virtually the same as a broken ankle, every ankle injury should be evaluated by a physician.

The most common symptoms of an ankle fracture are pain, tenderness and swelling which may present in just the ankle region, or pain can spread to parts of the foot as well as up toward the knee. Symptomatic pain can be more intense with pressure or when weight is put on the ankle.

Treatment of a Broken Ankle

Once an ankle fracture is diagnosed, it is important to begin appropriate treatment. There are many treatments, both surgical and nonsurgical, and the right treatment depends on having the correct diagnosis. Treatment is based on the alignment of the bones and the stability of the ankle joint. It is important that the bones heal correctly to prevent any residual instability or malalignment of the bone. A malalignment of as little as two millimeters in the ankle joint can lead to difficulty in walking and arthritis.

Certain mild ankle breaks that are stable and with no displacement may be treated nonsurgically using a protective splint, a short leg cast, or a walking boot. Some patients may be able to walk without any problem while wearing such a support, while others might need crutches to help keep the weight off the fracture.

For more serious fractures in which bones or bone fragments are misaligned, surgical intervention is necessary to prevent improper healing (malunion) that could obstruct proper movement in the ankle and possibly lead to other complications.

SRO Foot & Ankle Center

 

Information for this article provided in part by American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons – AAOS

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