A broken ankle is also known as an ankle “fracture.” This means that one or more of the bones that make up the ankle joint are broken.
A fractured ankle can range from a simple break in one bone, which may not stop you from walking, to several fractures, which forces your ankle out of place and may require that you not put weight on it for a few months.
Simply put, the more bones that are broken, the more unstable the ankle becomes. There may be ligaments damaged as well. The ligaments of the ankle hold the ankle bones and joint in position.
There are three bones make up the ankle joint:
Tibia – shinbone
Fibula – smaller bone of the lower leg
Talus – a small bone that sits between the heel bone (calcaneus) and the tibia and fibula
A fracture is a partial or complete break in a bone. In the ankle, fractures can range from the less-serious avulsion injuries (small pieces of bone that have been pulled off) to severe, shattering-type breaks of the tibia, fibula, or both.
Ankle fractures are common injuries that are most often caused by the ankle rolling inward or outward. Many people mistake an ankle fracture for an ankle sprain, but they are quite different and require an accurate and early diagnosis. Both can occur simultaneously.
Cause & Symptoms
Twisting or rotating your ankle
Rolling your ankle
Tripping or falling
Impact during a car accident
Your doctor will base a diagnosis using your medical history, symptoms, a physical examination, and additional tests.
Medical History and Examination
A medical history is important to understand more about the problem. Your doctor will want to know when the pain started and when it occurs. Is it worse at night? Does it get worse when walking or running? Is it continuous, or does it come and go?
He or she will want to know if there was a past injury to the foot or ankle. If so, your doctor will discuss your injury, when it occurred, and how it was treated.
Your doctor will want to know if the pain is in both feet or only in one foot, and where it is located exactly. Footwear will be examined, and any medications will be noted.
One of the tests performed during the physical examination is the gait analysis. This shows how the bones in the leg and foot line up with walking, measures stride, and tests the strength of the ankles and feet.
X-rays can show changes in the spacing between bones or in the shape of the bones themselves. Weight-bearing X-rays are the most valuable additional test in diagnosing the severity of arthritis.
A bone scan, computed tomographic (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance image (MRI) may also be used in the evaluation.
An ankle fracture is accompanied by one or all of these signs and symptoms:
Pain at the site of the fracture, which in some cases can extend from the foot to the knee.
Significant swelling, which may occur along the length of the leg or may be more localized.
Blisters may occur over the fractured area. These should be promptly treated by a surgeon.
Decreased ability to walk—it is possible to walk with less severe breaks, so never rely on walking as a test of whether a bone has been fractured.
Change in the appearance of the ankle so that it differs from the other ankle.
Bone protruding through the skin—a sign that immediate care is needed! Fractures that pierce the skin require urgent attention because they can lead to severe infection and prolonged recovery.
Great Lakes Physical Therapy
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