Ankle Fracture Treatment in Asheville
If you have fallen, twisted your ankle, or “landed wrong” on a foot, and now your ankle feels stiff, sore and swollen, you may be wondering if your ankle is broken. If your symptoms are severe, and you cannot bear weight, you may know your ankle is broken and are looking for the right doctor to treat your injury.
Ankle fractures are common injuries, but to make a speedy recovery and ensure your fracture heals properly so you can return to activities without complications, a broken ankle should be treated by an experienced orthopaedic surgeon.
At Carolina Hand & Sports Medicine, board certified orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Matthew B. Massey is fellowship trained in foot, ankle and knee surgery and has over a decade of experience treating ankle fractures in patients of all ages. Continue reading to learn more about the causes, symptoms and treatment options available in Asheville for ankle fractures.
What happens in an ankle fracture?
An ankle fracture occurs when bones in the ankle, specifically the tibia and fibula (the lower leg bones), 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 are often accompanied by tendon and ligament damage.
What can cause an ankle fracture?
Many types of irregular movements can result in a broken ankle. Most ankle fractures occur from a fall that twists the ankle in or out, such as a stumble down steps or mis-step during a tennis match or basketball game.
Ankle 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.
How do I know if my ankle is broken?
The most common symptoms of an ankle fracture are:
- Pain at the site of the injury, between the foot and the knee
- Swelling, bruising, and tenderness to the touch
- Inability to move the joint, or stiffness when doing so
- You are unable to bear weight or walk on the affected foot
- Visible deformity to the area: the foot/ankle appears to be angled incorrectly, or the skin may appear blistered over an ankle fracture
- The bone is punctured through skin
If you have any of these symptoms, visit an experienced orthopedic doctor as soon as possible to have the ankle and foot evaluated. 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, as well as perform a physical examination, to find out for sure.
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.
How is a broken ankle treated?
The treatment protocol for an ankle fracture will depend on the severity and pattern of the fracture, the specific bone or bones affected, and whether or not your ankle is stable (i.e., the fractured bones and ankle are still in proper alignment).
Stable ankle fractures can often be treated non-surgically
If you have only fractured one bone, and the ankle is not out of place, you may not need surgery. Non-surgical treatments for a broken ankle aim to keep the ankle stable, reduce pain and swelling, and reduce or avoid bearing weight on the ankle so it can heal properly. Treatments may include:
- Icing and elevation
- Pain medication or anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Wearing a cast or removable brace
- Walking with crutches for a certain period of time
- Physical therapy
Surgery to treat an ankle fracture
If your broken ankle is unstable or you have fractured multiple bones (i.a., a bimalleolar or trimalleolar fracture), surgery may be needed for the ankle to heal properly.
Typically, surgery involves placing plates, screws, or pins in the ankle to stabilize it and allow it to heal in the correct alignment.
Surgery to treat an ankle fracture has a very high success rate when performed by a qualified orthopaedic surgeon. Risks specific to ankle surgery include difficulty with healing, arthritis, or pain from the pins or plates. You can minimize these risks by choosing an experienced ankle surgeon and following post-operative instructions.
Whether or not you have surgery, your foot will likely be immobilized in a fracture boot or cast to allow the bones to heal. The prognosis for most ankle injuries is good, and most patients are asked to follow up with physical therapy.
How long does it take for a broken ankle to heal?
Typically, it takes at least 6 weeks for a broken bone to heal. You may or may not be allowed to begin walking or bearing weight on the injured foot earlier than this; how soon you can return to activities depends on the severity of your injury and your individual healing rate. Most people are back to normal daily activities within 3 or 4 months after an ankle fracture. Once you are cleared to return to activity, you may be asked to wear a support brace for a few weeks or months.
Follow your doctor’s instructions—their goal is to help you get back to activity as soon as possible without compromising the healing process.
If you have questions about ankle fractures or suspect that you or a loved one may have broken an ankle, please don’t hesitate to call our office. Dr. Massey and our staff will be happy to help.