What are broken or fractured ankles?
Ankle injuries are some of the most common of the joint and bone injuries. It can be difficult to diagnose a fracture or broken bone without x-rays of the ankle. The ankle is a complex joint that contains 3 bones that all come together. The bones in the lower leg, the tibia and fibula, are above the joint and the talus is found below the joint. The tibia, fibula and talus are the bony elements that make up the ankle joint. When your podiatrist is explaining an ankle fracture, he or she is usually talking about the tibia or fibula being broken.
The tibia carries about 90% of the weight of the body. The fibula is the smaller bone on the outside of the leg and it only carries about 10% of the body weight. Both of these bones wrap around the talus forming the ankle joint.
What causes an ankle fracture or broken ankle?
The joint becomes injured when the ankle joint is stressed beyond its strength. When a broken ankle does occur, the injury could be at the end of the tibia, to the fibula or both. There are many different kinds of ankle fractures and each one must be treated differently. Fractures commonly occur when:
- The bone gives away and breaks
- The ankle rolls in or out
- It twists side to side
- There’s extreme flexing or extending of the joint
- Severe force is applied to the joint because of jumping from a high level or coming straight down on it
How do I know if I have an ankle fracture or broken ankle?
A lot of the signs and symptoms of ankle fractures are fairly obvious. The most common complaint is pain. However, the pain may not come from the exact area where the ankle fracture occurred. This pain occurring in the ankle usually stops someone from walking. Swelling is another common symptom that indicates either soft tissue damage or fluid within the joint. When blood is found in the joint, it’s called hemarthrosis. Ankle fractures can also cause bruising. The skin around the joint may become black and blue; however it may not happen immediately. The bruising could run down the sole of your foot to toward the toes.
In severe fractures, you could see very obvious anklebone deformities. The skin could be stretched over the broken bone and you could even see the actual exposed bone. If nerves of blood vessels that supply to your foot are injured, even more pain could be experienced. The skin pales, the foot becomes numb and you may even lose the ability to move your foot or toes.
How are broken ankles or ankle fractures treated?
The minute you believe you have a broken ankle, call your podiatrist or doctor immediately. Until you are able to get to the hospital, or receive treatment there are things you can do. Stay off the injured ankle, and keep it elevated to decrease the pain and swelling. Use ice packs as well, however, don’t apply the ice directly to the skin. Lastly, take ibuprofen to decrease the inflammation and the pain.
One of the first things your doctor will do is place a splint on the injured ankle. This will have to stay in place for a few days to two weeks, or until the swelling decreases around the joint. The type of splint depends on the type of fracture. If your bones aren’t aligned properly, they will need to be put back into place before the splint is applied. If they can’t be realigned in the emergency department, or if the bone has broken through the skin, surgery may be required. Some minor fractures won’t require a splint or cast. These injuries will be managed like an ankle sprain.
After the swelling decreases, a doctor will place a better-fitting cast on the ankle. This could be a walking cast or a non-weight bearing cast that requires crutches depending on the type of fracture. Recovery time varies. The average ankle fracture will require 4-8 weeks before the bone heals.
If you suspect you have a broken ankle, schedule an appointment with us immediately! Schedule an appointment on the Waukesha Foot Specialists website, or call (262) 544-0700. Drs. David Guhl and Amy Miller-Guhl serve the Waukasha, New Berlin, Brookfield and Milwaukee areas.