What is a Broken Ankle?
A broken ankle is also commonly known as a fractured ankle. It happens when one or more of the three ankle joint’s bones break.
The following bones form the ankle joint:
- The tibia (or shin bone)
- The fibula (or calf bone)
- The talus
A broken ankle may occur as a result of a twisting injury, such as a fall or a simple misstep, or as a result of direct trauma, such as in a car accident. The severity of a broken ankle varies. Fractures can vary from small cracks in your bones to skin-piercing breaks. A broken ankle can cause excruciating pain and discomfort.
What is the Difference between a Broken Ankle and a Sprained Ankle?
A broken ankle is characterized by a break, crack or chip in the ankle bone whereas a sprained ankle is defined as a disruption or tear of the ligaments (which are fibrous tissues that hold the bones to the joints). To help differentiate between a broken ankle and a sprained ankle, you may have to ask yourself the following questions:
- Is your ankle misshapen? Although, swelling is a symptom of both the injuries, if your ankle appears to be clearly “off,” it’s more likely that a bone has been broken.
- Is there numbness in your ankle? A sprain causes pain and discomfort. However, if you feel tingling and numbness in your ankle, then it is most likely broken.
- Was there a noise when it happened? A sprain may occur silently, or produce a popping sound in extreme cases. However, a crack can be heard when a fracture occurs.
- Where is the pain? You most likely have a fracture if there is pain in your ankle or if it is tender to the touch directly over your ankle bone. It’s more likely a sprain if the soft part of your ankle hurts.
You should consult your doctor if you are still not sure whether you have a broken ankle or a sprained ankle. The doctor will examine your ankle and perform a variety of tests to determine which injury you have.
Types of Broken Ankle
The type and seriousness of a broken ankle are determined by the amount of force that caused it. The following are the types of broken ankles:
- Medial malleolus fracture:
This fracture occurs when the bone on the end of the tibia, known as the medial malleolus, is broken on the inner side of the ankle. A medial malleolus fracture occurs much less frequently than a lateral malleolus fracture. Surgery is usually used to treat a displaced (out of position) medial malleolus fracture.
- Lateral malleolus fracture:
This fracture takes place at the bottom of the fibula. Lateral malleolus fractures are the most common type of broken ankles. Most of the fibular fractures can be treated without surgery.
- Bimalleolar ankle fracture:
A bimalleolar ankle fracture occurs when there is an injury to both the knobs in the ankle, which includes the fibula (lateral malleolus) and tibia (medial malleolus). These fractures usually require surgery to be treated. They are the second most common type of broken ankles.
- Bimalleolar equivalent fracture:
This injury is mainly a fibula fracture, but there is also a ligament tear on the inner side of the ankle. This causes the ankle joint to become unstable and can require surgery to be treated.
- Posterior malleolus fracture:
A posterior malleolus fracture takes place on the back side of the tibia. This type of break usually occurs with lateral malleolus fractures. This is because the lateral malleolus and the posterior malleolus share ligament attachments.
- Trimalleolar fracture:
All the three parts of the ankle are involved in a trimalleolar fracture. A trimalleolar ankle fracture is identical to a bimalleolar ankle fracture, but the back bone of the tibia is also fractured. This fracture also requires surgery to repair.
- Pilon fracture:
A pilon fracture occurs at the end of the tibia, in the “roof” of the ankle. It is also known as a plafond fracture. High-impact injuries, such as falls or car crashes, are the most common causes of pilon fractures.
- Maisonneuve fracture:
A Maisonneuve fracture is a less common type of fracture. This fracture is made up of two injuries: a crack in the upper part of the fibula and an ankle sprain. This fracture is located near the knee.
- Syndesmotic injury:
The syndesmosis joint, which connects the fibula and tibia, is affected in this injury. It’s called a high ankle sprain if only the ligament is damaged. However, most of the syndesmotic injuries include at least one fracture and a ligament sprain.
Symptoms of a Broken Ankle
At the time of the injury, you may hear the bone crack. A grinding or snapping noise can be heard. Some of the common symptoms of a broken ankle are:
- Extreme pain
- Numbness and tenderness
- Ankle appears to be dislocated
- Trouble in walking or standing
- Dizziness due to pain
- Bone may stick out of the skin
- Bleeding, if the bone pierces the skin
Causes of a Broken Ankle
A twisting injury is the most common cause of a broken ankle, but it may also be caused by a direct blow to the ankle. The following are the most common causes of a broken ankle:
- Tripping and falling, as well as landing on your feet after jumping down from even a short height, can break bones in your ankles.
- Crushing injuries, which are common in car accidents, can result in fractures that require surgical repair.
- Sometimes, placing your foot down incorrectly can cause a twisting injury that can lead to a broken bone.
- High-impact sports, such as football, rugby, soccer, basketball, involve rapid movements that put strain on the ankle and other joints.
How to reduce pain and swelling in a broken ankle?
To reduce the pain and swelling in your broken ankle, you should do the following:
- At least four times a day, sit with your foot raised higher than your knee.
- For the first two days, apply an ice pack 20 minutes every hour when you’re awake.
- After two days, use the ice pack for about 10 to 20 minutes three times a day as required.
Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil and others) or naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve, and others) may be used to relieve pain.
Treatment Options for a Broken Ankle
Treatment options for a broken ankle vary, depending on the type and the severity of the injury. Some of the best treatment options are given below:
An over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) may be recommended by your doctor.
Ice can be used to relieve pain and swelling immediately after an injury. Before applying it to the skin, wrap it up in a towel.
- Cast, Splint or Walking Boot
A cast, splint or a walking boot may be used to treat mild ankle breaks. As the bone heals, these treatments help to keep the bone in place. You’ll need surgery for more severe injuries before wearing a boot, cast, or splint.
Your doctor may need to physically move your broken bone back into place if it has slipped out of place. This treatment is known as reduction. To control the pain, you might be given a sedative, a muscle relaxant, or general anesthesia before the operation.
- Physical Therapy
Following the healing of your bone, you’ll probably need to relax stiff muscles and ligaments in your ankles and feet. A physical therapist will teach you different exercises to improve your balance, flexibility and strength.
In certain cases, an orthopedic surgeon may need to use pins, plates, or screws to keep the bones in the correct position as they recover. If the materials are prominent or painful, they can be removed after the fracture has healed.
Recovery time of a Broken Ankle
Ankle fractures typically recover in 6 to 12 weeks. Injuries that do not require surgery may recover in about 6 weeks. During this period, your doctor may regularly take your X-rays to check on the bone.
Injuries that require surgery can take up to 12 weeks to recover. The length of your recovery time is determined by your age, injury and your overall health.
Recovery Tips for a Broken Ankle
It’s important to follow your doctor’s advice during your recovery period. This will help in the proper healing of your broken ankle. Here are some things you can do to ensure a quick recovery:
Don’t carry heavy and bulky things or engage in sport activities. You should ask your friends or family for help, if you need to go somewhere. Your doctor will inform you when it’s safe to use your ankle again.
- Avoid putting pressure on your ankle
You should avoid using your injured foot. When walking or moving, don’t put any weight on your ankle until your doctor allows it.
- Eat a healthy diet
A broken ankle, like any other injury, needs enough nutrients to heal. Recovery can be aided by eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet.
- Avoid Smoking
Smoking delays the healing of bones. Cigarette smoke contains chemicals that interfere with the body’s ability to form new bone tissue. Quitting smoking can be challenging, but a doctor can assist you in creating a smoking cessation plan suited to your needs.
- Visit your doctor regularly
You should visit your doctor on a regular basis during your recovery period. The doctor will need to make sure the bone is healing properly.
Exercises for a Broken Ankle
If you’ve broken your ankle, a physical therapist will help you get back to normal function after your fracture has healed. One of the most important treatments for regaining mobility after an ankle fracture is therapeutic exercise. Your physical therapist will recommend the best exercises for you to do at the right time to help you get back to full mobility as soon as possible. You may do these rehabilitation exercises to help your broken ankle to recover:
- Calf stretch (knee bent)
- Calf stretch (knee straight)
- Ankle plantar flexion
- Ankle dorsiflexion
- Resisted ankle plantar flexion
- Resisted ankle dorsiflexion
- Resisted ankle inversion
- Resisted ankle eversion
- Ankle alphabet
- Heel raises
How to walk after a Broken Ankle?
Being unable to walk for weeks on end can be frustrating, but it is an essential part of your recovery. Walking on a broken ankle too early will prevent it from healing properly and may even worsen the injury. Fortunately, there are a variety of mobility devices to choose from that can assist you to remain mobile.
Usually, a mild ankle fracture will not prevent you from walking. It’s even possible that you’ll be able to walk again right after your injury. You should stop walking for a few months if you have a serious break. You can gradually resume daily activities as your ankle heals.
You may have a broken ankle when one or more of the three bones present in the ankle joint break. The tibia, fibula, and talus are among these bones.
Falls, car accidents, high-impact activities, and injuries that place excessive force on the ankle are the most common causes of broken ankles.
The treatment options are determined by the severity of the ankle break. You may use a cast, splint or a walking boot, if you have mild ankle break. If the fracture is serious, you will need surgery to realign the bone.
It can take around 6 to 12 weeks to fully recover. Severe ankle fractures that require surgery may take a longer time to heal.