A broken ankle can be debilitating, and not treating it properly can lead to long-term disability. A broken ankle is the fracture of one or more bones from the end of the leg bones (tibia and fibula) to the ankle bone itself (talus). Ankle fractures with displacement, where the bones have moved out of position, may require surgery to repair, while stress fractures often have less complicated treatment methods.
Broken ankles should be diagnosed and treated right away. At Princeton Orthopaedic Associates, we will be able to diagnose your possible broken ankle and will provide the best treatment plan possible for you.
Your ankle is made up of three main parts — the bottom portion of the tibia (“shin bone”), the bottom of the fibula, and the talus (“ankle bone”) that connects the other two bones to the foot. Ankle breaks often occur on the malleolus, which is the lower portions of the tibia or fibula. The lateral malleolus is that bump on the outside of your ankle. It’s actually the bottom portion of your fibula bone. The medial malleolus is the inside of your ankle and the bottom of the tibia, and the posterior malleolus is the back part of your ankle and the back of the fibula.
Most ankle breaks occur when the ankle is twisted with extreme force, such as through a sports injury, or strongly impacted, such as through a car accident. Stress fractures can also occur when someone increases their normal exercise activity or when someone impacts their ankle.
There are two types of breaks, displaced and non-displaced.
Symptoms of a broken ankle are prettty obvious. The person will have pain and swelling, and the pain will increase if weight is put on the ankle. The pain can radiate to the top of the foot or up the leg.
If you suspect a fracture, it’s imperative to treat it right away. If the ankle heals incorrectly, it could cause pain or deformity later. A fracture will be diagnosed through x-rays or a CT scan.
Non-displaced fractures, including stress fractures, often can be repaired with a cast or walking boot. Some displaced fractures may be treated this way. However, many displaced ankle fractures may require surgery. Pins and/or plates may be put in to stablize the bones and allow the pieces to heal together properly.
In general, it takes 4-6 weeks for a broken ankle and the damaged ligaments and tendons around it to heal properly. That’s assuming surgery hasn’t been required to repair the ankle. In those cases, healing may be more complex.
Patients who undergo ankle surgery can expect to stay off the ankle a minimum of 4-6 weeks while the bone heals. Treatment begins by elevating the ankle at least 90% of the time for the first couple of weeks. Patients are then placed in a removeable boot so they can shower and begin moving the ankle slightly.
After six weeks, x-rays are taken to see if the bone has healed properly. If it has, then physical therapy can begin and weight can be put on the ankle. Physical therapy can last up to six weeks.