An ankle fracture refers to the break of one or more bones in the ankle joint. If there is only a simple break in one bone, it may still be possible to walk, while trauma causing several bones in the joint to break will typically force the ankle out of place. This can make it difficult, if not impossible, to put weight on the affected ankle.
In the ankle there are three separate bones. These are:
- tibia – also known as the shinbone,the larger of the two bones found in the lower leg
- fibula – the other bone in the lower leg, which is thinner but plays an important role in stabilizing the ankle
- talus — located inside the ankle, between the heel bone (calcaneus) and the ends of the tibia and fibula, the wedge-shaped talus provides support for the ankle’s range of motion
Ankle fractures are diagnosed through physical exams and imaging tests, like X-rays, CT scans and MRIs, but they are classified based on the particular part of the bone that is broken. The specific parts of the tibia and fibula that make up the ankle are:
- medial malleolus — inside are of the tibia that ends in the ankle
- posterior malleolus — back area of the tibia that ends in the ankle
- lateral malleolus–outer fibula part of ankle
If more than one bone is involved, the injury is referred to as a bimalleolar fracture. If all three, then injury is called a trimalleolar fracture.
Causes of Ankle Fractures
Anyone can experience a broken ankle, no matter how old or young. That said, there has been an increase in the number of ankle fractures during recent years, as well as an increase in severity. Doctors attribute this, at least in part, to people remaining active later in life than those in previous generations.
Some of the most common causes of ankles fractures include:
- Simple missteps, like putting the foot down incorrectly when stepping off a curb
- Rolling the ankle inward or outward
- Twisting or rotating the ankle side to side, especially with any force
- Over-flexing or over-extending the joint
- High impact force, such as a falling or jumping
- Impact from an automobile accident or similar kind of trauma
- Sports injury
Symptoms of an Ankle Fracture
Most people know when they have suffered a broken ankle due to immediate pain and swelling, which may or may not be confined solely to the ankle area. This will often be accompanied by difficulty walking or putting weight on the ankle. Some may even hear the actual fracture, which can sound like a snapping or grinding.
Everyone’s experience is different, and the symptoms differ based on the severity of the fracture and the number of bones broken. Some of the other common signs and symptoms of an ankle fracture are:
- Pain, often throbbing, along with swelling, tenderness and bruising around the ankle joint
- Difficulty moving the ankle through normal range of motion
- Obvious deformity with pieces of fractured bones visible through broken skin, known as an open fracture
- Possible dizziness from extreme pain or sight of bones protruding through skin
Without obvious broken bones, an ankle fracture can be mistaken as a sprained ankle. It is important to have ankle injuries examined by a healthcare professional.
Treatment Options for Ankle Fractures
Your orthopedic surgeon will determine the best course of treatment for an ankle fracture based on the type and severity of the fracture. If it is a stable fracture and there is only one break, with the segments of bone close together, it can usually be treated by immobilization in a cast. This type of fracture can usually will heal in 6 weeks.
Displaced fractures, which are those in which the ends of the broken bone are no longer in alignment, may require reduction. In this procedure, which is not surgery, your ankle doctor will manipulate the bones back into place. Muscle relaxants, local anesthesia or sedation may be used during reduction.
With more severe fractures that are displaced or fragmented, immobilization or reduction will be inadequate and surgery will be required. Your orthopedic surgeon will repair the fracture or fractures with special screws and plates that will hold the bones in their correct position during healing.
Ankle Fracture Recovery
No matter what method was used in treating the ankle fracture, there will be a rehabilitation period that follows. Physical therapy will be recommended once the patient can bear weight on the joint. This is necessary to help return patients to their normal level of activities with as much range of motion and mobility restored as possible. Without proper rehabilitation, there may be complications, including chronic pain, inflammation, weakness and difficulty walking.
Contact New Jersey’s Ankle Specialist Dr. Hubbard For A Consultation Regarding Ankle Fracture Fixation
If you are experiencing symptoms related to an ankle fracture, Dr. Christopher Hubbard has the experience and training to provide you with options, designed specifically for you, to give you the very best potential for recovery. Contact our office today if you need treatment for your ankle fracture.