What is an Ankle Fracture?

The ankle joint is comprised of three bones: the tibia or shinbone, the talus or the ankle bone, and the fibula or outer ankle bone. An ankle fracture or broken ankle is when one or more of these bones crack or break. This differs from a sprained ankle, which is damage to the ligaments (bands of tissue that connect bones to one another). Tendons connect muscle to bone. There are several possible types of ankle fractures. These can be caused from a rolled or turned ankle during sports activities or from high force impacts such as car accidents and falls.

A sudden break due to activity or accidents is known as a traumatic ankle fracture. Stress fractures can stem from smaller repetitive impacts and can occur over time. Stress fractures are typically fractures of the cancellous bone (spongy center portion) which can progress to the cortex (outer, hard portion of bone).

What is the difference between an ankle sprain and an ankle fracture?

  • If only the ligaments are stretched or torn when the ankle joint sustains massive stress, then the result is a sprain.
  • If one of the bones in the joint breaks, it is a fracture. Fractures are broken bones, and can be either non-displaced (not out of the normal position) or displaced.

What are the symptoms of an ankle fracture?

  • Pain, swelling and
  • Deformity of the leg
  • Tenderness around the ankle bone(s), but can extend to the feet or knee
  • A cracking noise or pop heard at the time of injury
  • Numbness or tingling can occur

How do I know if I have a broken ankle?

A broken ankle diagnosis is done through a physical examination of the foot and ankle region and stress test followed by x-rays and potentially an MRI. The x-ray will show which bone(s) within the ankle are fractured while an MRI can show further damage to ligaments and tendons. It is possible to experience damage to the bone, ligaments and tendons within the same injury.

Have you sustained an ankle fracture?

There are two ways to initiate a consultation with the sports foot & ankle group:

You can provide current X-rays and/or MRIs for a clinical case review ($250).

You can schedule an office consultation.

Request Case Review or Office Consultation

What is the treatment for an ankle fracture?

Non-Surgical Treatment:

Non-surgical treatments is possible for “stable” ankle fractures.  Your physician can help decide which fractures are stable and which are unstable, and this often includes a stress x-ray.  Stable injuries can be treated with protective walking boot or cast.  Icing and using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medication, such as ibuprofen, can reduce pain and swelling.  Depending on the severity of injury, your physician may suggest you limit NSAIDs.

Surgical Treatment:

Surgical procedures may be necessary to put bone fragments back in their original alignment. Your physician may secure the bones with surgical screws, metal plates, wiring techniques or rods. This ensures bone fragments heal together. The next step in the healing process will require the injury to be splinted, casted or braced for a short time.

How long is recovery from a broken ankle?

Recovery is dependent upon the severity of the fracture. It takes typically at least six weeks for bones to heal. The healing process may take longer if tendons and ligaments are also damaged or if there are any underlying health conditions. X-rays throughout the process may be necessary to gauge the timeframe of recovery. Once the bone(s) are healed, physical therapy may be recommended. It can often take several months or a year to fully recover.

For more information on ankle fractures and the treatment options available, please contact the office of the Sports Foot and Ankle Clinic serving Vail, Colorado and the surrounding Eagle, Vail Mountain Ranges.

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