Half of reported broken or dislocated ankles are due to athletic activities. Other ankle fractures happen during daily life—traveling or shopping. A broken ankle may range from a simple, small break in the bone to a complete crack that stabs the skin. Those suffering from a broken ankle lose freedom and mobility. But with the right information, breaking an ankle does not have to keep you from moving forward. Read on to learn how to treat a broken ankle and get back to your daily routine.
When an ankle or foot breaks, one or more of the bones in the ankle joint are fractured or out of place. Also, the ligaments may be seriously damaged. The severity of a broken ankle ranges from a simple injury that does not hinder your daily activities to severe fractures requiring surgery and rehabilitation.
Types of Ankle Injuries
Doctors categorize broken ankles according to the area of bone that is fractured. Understanding what a broken ankle feels like can help you get the best possible treatment immediately. A fractured ankle comes in different forms:
Broken Tibia Ankle
If your ankle is broken at the tibula, your recovery time may be longer. ( Image Reference)
The tibia, or shinbone, is the big bone in the lower part of your leg. Tibia fractures are often a result of a direct trauma and mean a long recovery time and a long period of immobility. Whether the break is from a fall on the stairs or a sports injury, a broken tibia can be a complex injury that includes the ankle and knee, as well.
Broken Fibula Ankle
An ankle broken at the fibula is sometimes visible through the skin. ( Image Reference)
The fibula is the thinner lower leg bone. A broken fibula ankle occurs after an impact to the ankle or leg. Stress fractures may also happen due to repetitive impact. In severe fibula fractures, displaced bones can cause a visible deformity.
Causes of a Broken Ankle Bone
A fractured ankle rarely occurs due to one specific event. The major causes of an ankle injury include:
Simple Missteps: Sometimes, twisting or rotating your ankle during a walk can result in a broken bone. Even putting your foot down wrong may cause a fractured ankle.
Car Crash: The impact of a car accident may cause dislocations, which require surgical repair.
Heavy Lifting: Lifting heavy objects every day or dropping one on your foot can easily cause a broken ankle.
Sports: High-impact sports often causes small cracks in the bone over time. Dangerous twisting injuries, direct blows, and stresses usually occur in sports like football, soccer, tennis, and basketball.
Trips or Falls: Falling can cause shattered bones in the ankle or feet.
Broken Ankle Symptoms
After you hear that pop, you wonder, Is my ankle broken? Knowing whether your ankle is broken or sprained helps you determine if self-care is sufficient to treat the injury. Every fracture must be properly evaluated by a physician to avoid serious problems later on—like bone infection. If you have any doubts, see your doctor immediately.
What does a broken ankle look like? Common signs of a broken ankle include:
Broken ankle swelling
A sudden, throbbing pain, which may extend from your foot to your knee
Blisters over the affected area
Bruising, redness, and tenderness
Protruding bones—open ankle fracture
Difficulty to walk or bear weight
Broken Ankle Diagnosis
A fractured ankle is sometimes complicated to diagnose, especially to self-diagnose. If you think you are suffering from any of the symptoms listed above, visit a medical professional as soon as possible. The doctor will conduct a careful examination of your foot, ankle, and lower leg to determine the best course of action.
Your doctor may also utilize these imaging tests to effectively examine your injury.
Broken Ankle X-Ray
X-rays are intended to visualize ankle and foot fractures. The doctor may suggest one or more broken ankle images from different angles, as stress fractures often do not appear in X-rays until they begin to heal.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
To develop detailed images of the ligaments of your foot and ankle, MRIs use a strong magnetic field and radio waves. This imaging test shows damaged bones and ligaments and can reveal fractures that are not visible on X-rays.
Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan
CT scans involve combining several X-rays to create a cross-section image of the fractured ankle. A CT scan can unveil more information about the damage to your bone and soft tissues.
How to Treat a Broken Ankle
The treatment for a fractured ankle varies, depending on the severity of the injury. Here are a few common broken ankle treatment options.
A dislocated bone must be immobilized for it to heal quickly and effectively. Your doctor may require a broken ankle cast, but minor ankle injuries typically only need a removable brace or a broken ankle boot.
Therapy for Broken Ankle
After the bone fragments have healed, you will need to loosen stiff ligaments and muscles in your ankles. Your therapist will help you perform exercises to improve your ankle strength and mobility. Broken ankle recovery exercises will speed your healing time. Here are a few exercises you’ll likely consider.
Calf Stretch (Knee Straight)
Step 1: Sit on the floor with your fractured leg straight in front of you. Bend the other leg, with your foot flat on the floor.
Step 2: Put a towel around your damaged foot, holding the ends of the towel tightly in each hand.
Step 3: Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 5 times.
Resisted Ankle Inversion
Step 1: Sit on the floor with your unaffected leg crossed over the injured leg.
Step 2: Place an exercise band around your fractured foot. Hold both ends of the band tightly.
Step 3: Keep your legs crossed and slowly push your fractured foot against the exercise band.
Step 4: Relax for a few seconds. Repeat 8 to 12 times per day.
Ankle Plantar Flexion
Step 1: Sit on the floor with your injured leg straight out and the other leg bent.
Step 2: Gently flex your affected foot downward. Your toes should be pointed away from your body.
Step 3: Hold the position for a few seconds, then slowly relax your foot back to the starting position. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.
Step 1: Stand in front of a chair, with your feet approximately close together. Rest your hands lightly on the chair’s seat.
Step 2: Slowly raise both heels off the floor, lifting onto your toes and keeping your knees straight.
Step 3: Hold the position a few seconds, then relax your heels to the floor. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.
Step 1: Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
Step 2: Lift the heel of your injured foot, and slowly trace the letters of the alphabet onto the floor. Repeat 2 to 5 times, several times per day.
If there is displacement, meaning there is a gap between fractured bones, a medical professional may need to manipulate the pieces back to their proper alignment. This process is known as reduction. Depending on the level of swelling and pain, you may need a muscle relaxant before the procedure.
Broken Ankle Surgery
Surgery is required if the ankle is unstable or if the fracture is out of place. This procedure involves repositioning the bone fragments to their normal alignment. A surgeon uses metal plates and special screws to keep the bone fragments together. In some cases, a rod or screw is placed inside the bone. If a broken ankle heals improperly, it may result in ankle arthritis, which is why restoring the alignment is necessary to a full recovery.
Broken Ankle Recovery Time
Broken ankle recovery time after surgery takes about six to eight weeks, although pain can lessen after two to three weeks. Medications are available to help ease the pain after surgery. Ask your doctor when you can walk on a broken ankle. Make good progress, but don’t be in a rush! Walking on a broken ankle too soon can prevent you from making a full recovery, which is critical for a lifetime of joint health.
How to Start Walking After a Broken Ankle
Suffering from a broken ankle injury puts your ankles at risk for re-injury. Once you've fully recovered, it's important to take preventative measures once you start walking around again to ensure your ankles are supported. As you gain more mobility, consider wearing an ankle brace when participating in recreational activities or spending a long time on your feet. Supporting and compressing those vulnerable ligaments will greatly reduce your pain.
Select an ankle brace with adjustable support and comfortable, breathable material. ( See Product on Amazon).
Remember, follow your recovery plan to get back on your feet quickly. Talk to your doctor and physical therapist about your goals for strengthening your ankle and improving mobility.
Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle. Through her writing she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.
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