A broken ankle can be a complex injury. Ankle fractures are often the result of a car or motorcycle crash, a slip and fall, or other accident caused by another person’s negligence. Ankle injuries are very common: more than 1.2 million ankle injuries are seen in emergency rooms each year.
The ankle is a joint that connects the leg to the foot where three bones come together: the tibia (shinbone), the fibula (the lower leg bone), and the talus (the anklebone). The ends of the tibia and fibula form a scooped pocket that fits snugly around the top of the talus.
Ankle fractures usually involve breakage of the tibia or fibula. However, there are many types of ankle fractures, and varying degrees of severity from tiny cracks in a single bone to multiple severe, shattering breaks that pierce through the skin. The treatment for a broken ankle depends on the site and severity of the fracture.
If you have twisted, turned, or “rolled” your ankle, and experience any of the following signs and symptoms, seek immediate medical care:
- The bone has pierced your skin and is exposed to the air (a compound fracture)
- Gross misalignment of your ankle bones
- Loss of function (you cannot move your ankle)
- Inability to walk or bear weight/stand on the affected leg
- Intolerable pain persists despite over-the-counter pain medications
- You are unable to move your toes
- You have partial or total numbness of your ankle or foot
- Your foot is cold or blue
Other signs of a broken ankle include:
- A snapping or popping sound at the time of the injury
- Immediate, severe throbbing ankle pain that increases with activity and decreases with rest
- Extreme tenderness around the ankle area
- Swelling of the ankle
- Bruising or discolored skin, which appears hours to days after the injury
- Cuts or puncture wounds
If you suspect you have a fractured ankle, but it does not need emergency care, call your doctor’s office, and make an appointment for an examination within two to three days. Until you see your doctor, treat your injury at home:
- Stay off the injured ankle to avoid further/worsening injury;
- Restrict the movement of your ankle and foot with a splint;
- Apply ice to the area for 20 minutes at a time with a break of 45 to 60 minutes between icing for the first 24 to 48 hours; this will help to reduce swelling.
- Apply compression to the injured area by wrapping it in an elastic or ACE bandage.
- Keep your ankle and foot elevated above heart level. This takes pressure off the ankle and foot and helps reduce swelling.
- Over-the-counter pain killers like acetaminophen, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen also reduce swelling and can relieve pain.
X-rays of the ankle will confirm whether there is a fracture, and suggest a plan for treatment. Sometimes the doctor will put pressure on the ankle and take a special X-ray called a “stress test” to determine whether an ankle fracture needs surgery. A CT scan or an MRI may be ordered to assess whether there is injury to the cartilage and tendons around the ankle.
Treatment for Broken Ankles
If X-rays show that your ankle is indeed broken, the physician will immobilize it with a splint or cast. Your doctor may perform a procedure called “reduction,” or manually realigning the bones, if necessary. You may receive medication or a sedative to help reduce pain during this procedure.
Although some ankle fractures are healed by immobilization alone, surgery may be necessary if:
- The bones cannot be realigned
- There is a compound fracture (the bone has broken through the skin)
- The ankle is unstable
- X-rays show multiple fractures or loose bone fragments
- There is damage to the surrounding ligaments
- The fractured bone is blocking the ankle joint
The purpose of the surgery is to implant internal fixation devices such as wires, plates, nails, or screws to keep your bones in their proper position, so they heal correctly. Compound fractures are also dangerous because the open wound exposes the bone to bacteria, increasing the risk of infection and requiring antibiotic treatment.
To reduce pain and inflammation, the doctor may recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever. If these don’t relieve your pain, your doctor may prescribe an opioid medication.
After the initial swelling reduces, you’ll have a follow-up visit with your doctor, who may place a better-fitting cast. If your injury is less severe, and your ankle can bear some weight, your doctor may give you a “walking cast.” Otherwise, the doctor may place a non-weight-bearing cast and crutches to help immobilize the injury and ensure you do not put weight on it for several weeks.
There are certain times during the treatment phase of your broken ankle that you should contact your healthcare provider immediately if:
- You have swelling above or below the fracture
- Your toenails or feet turn blue or grey
- Your foot is numb or has no feeling below the fracture
- You have lingering pain at the site of the fracture under the cast that is not helped by elevation or medication
- You have a burning pain under the cast
After the cast is removed—usually six to eight weeks later—you will need to loosen up stiff muscles and ligaments in your ankle and foot. Your doctor may prescribe a course of physical therapy for instruction on a program of stretching, strengthening, and range of motion exercises you can do at home. This will improve the leg’s strength and ankle’s range of motion so you can resume your normal activities.
The goal of rehabilitation is to get you back to your normal activities as soon as is safely possible. You may safely return to your normal activities when you have full strength and range of motion without pain or a limp. It’s important to remember that everyone heals at a different rate, and not attempt to resume your normal activities too soon, or your injury may worsen.
While most ankle injuries heal with no long-term effects, there may be complications. For example, if the ankle is not repaired or treated correctly, arthritis or deformity of the ankle may occur, necessitating a second surgery. If one or more surgery is required for your injury, there is always a risk of standard surgical complications, including bleeding, infection, deep vein thrombosis, or adverse reaction to the anesthesia.
If you suffered a broken ankle or other serious foot injury due to another person’s carelessness, contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at TorkLaw. If we take your case, we can help you find an orthopedic surgeon with experience in treating broken ankles, and start an investigation into the cause of your accident as soon as possible. We work on behalf of accident victims to recover monetary damages for injuries and losses including medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other damages. Call now or submit your case for a free review.