What is an Ankle Fracture?
An ankle fracture is when bones in the ankle, specifically the tibia and fibula, break partially or completely. In an ankle fracture, the tibia and fibula are broken close to the foot. These are called the distal ends of the bone. The fibula is located on the outside of the leg, and the tibia is located on the inside of the leg.
Ankle fractures can be minor avulsion injuries, where shards of bone break off, or they can be injuries where the entire distal end of either the tibia or fibula is shattered. Ankle fractures often present with tendon and ligament damage.
Causes of an Ankle Fracture
Any kind of fall can lead to an ankle fracture. Most ankle fractures occur from a fall that twists the ankle in or out. These fractures can also be caused by extreme pressure on the joint, such as jumping or falling from a height or twisting the ankle side to side. Over-extending the joint may also result in fracture.
Symptoms of an Ankle Fracture
The most common symptoms of an ankle fracture are:
- Pain at the site of the injury, between the foot and the knee
- Swelling, tenderness
- Inability to move the joint, or stiffness when doing so
- Unable to walk
- Blisters may appear on the skin over an ankle fracture
- Bone punctured through skin
When bone appears through the skin it is a very serious injury, called an open ankle fracture. This injury should be treated immediately by an Emergency Room doctor to prevent other issues.
Treatments and Prognosis
If you suspect you have fractured your ankle, you should visit a doctor as soon as possible. It can often be difficult to tell if you have a severe sprain or an ankle fracture, but a doctor will X-ray your ankle to find out for sure.
Treatments vary from elevation and icing to different types of casts to even surgery. It is less common to need surgery, but usually the alignment of the ankle will be restored by placing metal pins in an ankle to keep it in place and allow it to heal.
Most often a patient’s foot is set in a hard cast, then over time they move to a fracture boot. This allows the bones to heal by keeping them immobilized. The prognosis for most ankle injuries is good, and most patients are asked to follow up with physical therapy.