Ankle Fractures: Common but Not Necessarily Simple

Are there different types of ankle fractures?  

In spite of all the attention we pay to our differences, the truth is that we are much more alike than not. One of the characteristics that we all seem to share is the tendency to pay attention to what is wrong or not working correctly, and, at the same time, fail to notice or appreciate the vast majority of things that just hum along, functioning as they should. 

When it comes to the physical body, we seem particularly prone to taking for granted its many marvels, and a good example of that is the way we are able to move because of our joints. We call upon them hundreds, if not thousands, of times every day and never give them a thought. We simply expect to be able to stand, reach, turn, walk. That changes pretty quickly, though, when one of those joints suffers an injury and is no longer able to function the way we want it to.

Like the rest of the joints that we take for granted, the ankle is crucial to many of our everyday activities. Anytime we want to stand up, take a step or simply shift our weight or stance the ankle is called into play. In fact, just walking requires the ankle to support the amount of force equal to nearly five times our body weight. Running increases that to as much as thirteen times body weight. Because we place so much demand and stress on the ankle joints, it’s easy to understand why ankle injuries are so common.

Types of Ankle Fractures

The most common types of ankle injuries are sprains, strains and fractures. Sprains involve damage to the ligaments that surround and support the joint, and strains result from the associated muscles or tendons becoming overly stretched or torn.

“Fracture” comes from the Latin fractura, which means “break”, so when your doctor walks in with the results from your x-ray, CT scan or MRI and tells you that you have fractured a bone in your ankle, it means that you have broken the bone. Or, you may learn that you have broken more than one bone. 

There are three bones that make up the ankle joint, and fractures are named based on, not only which bones (or bones) are broken, but also where the break is located on the bone. The most common types of ankle fractures are: 

  • Lateral malleolus fracture – involves the protrusion or bump on the lower part of the fibula (outside of the ankle) and is the area of the ankle that is most often fractured.
  • Bimalleolar ankle fracture – the knob or bump on the inside of the ankle (lower area of the tibia) is the medial malleolus and when there are breaks in both the medial malleolus and the lateral malleolus, you have a bimalleolar ankle fracture, which is the next most common type of break in the ankle. 
  • Trimalleolar ankle fracture – less common but more serious is when there are three fractures; the medial malleolus, lateral malleolus and the posterior malleolus, which is the outside part of the lower area of the fibula.   
  • Pilon fracture – also sometimes referred to as the plafond fracture, this type of fracture is in the upper portion or top of the ankle (central area of the lower tibia) and typically results from a high impact injury like a fall.

If you have questions about ankle pain or about any other foot or ankle concerns, Dr. Christopher Hubbard is a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon with Ortho-Care Wayne in Bergen County New Jersey and is the former Chief of the Foot and Ankle Service at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in NYC.