Broken Ankle - What is it?

Broken Ankle - What is it?


A broken ankle, also known as an ankle fracture, is a very common injury that can affect any of the three bones that make up the ankle joint. These bones include the fibula, tibia, or talus. The fibula and tibia are located above the actual joint, and fractures to these bones are commonly referred to as broken ankles. The talus lies below the joint and sits in the cup created by the ends of the upper bones. The ankle joint is formed where these three bones meet.

Broken Ankle – Cast vs. Surgery

Ankle fractures can vary greatly in type and severity. They usually affect the end of the fibula or tibia or both. A fracture may consist of a small crack, a full break that pierces the skin, or anything in between. Treatment varies depending upon the severity and location of the break. Minor fractures may heal with just a splint or cast while severe breaks may require surgery to repair. The severity can be determined through physical examination and X-ray.

Broken Ankle - Treatment

Once the severity and location of an ankle break are determined, doctors can form an effective treatment plan. Swelling is very common in broken ankles, and it is usually controlled using elevation and ice. If the break is not badly displaced, a splint will be put on to prevent movement until the swelling subsides. If the displacement is present, the fracture will need to be re-set before being splinted. A cast is usually put in place a few days after the injury once the swelling subsides. Casts are made of fiberglass or plaster, and they are intended to hold a broken bone in place while it heals. If surgery is needed, it will usually be performed before splinting or casting the injury.

Broken Ankle - Recovery

As a broken ankle heals, the patient must stay off of it. In most cases, patients need to walk using crutches until the injury heals. Healing may take a matter of weeks or months depending upon the severity. Once the ankle has healed, the cast can be removed. Many patients require physical therapy to regain strength, especially after a severe break. Complications as the result of a broken ankle are rare but may include bone infection, damage to nerves or blood vessels, or compartment syndrome. In some cases, patients may develop arthritis in the affected joint years later. These complications are most common when patients do not seek immediate medical attention.

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