What is an ankle fracture?
The ankle joint is made up of a number of bones; when any of these bones are broken it is known as an ankle fracture. The more bones that are broken, the worse the injury. Pain will instantly be felt, followed by swelling and bruising. Sometimes the joint will also look out of place. Ankle fractures can lead to joint instability and leave you unable to walk on the affected ankle.
What causes an ankle fracture?
Ankle fractures can be caused by impact during sporting activities, or through other types of injuries such as:
- Rolling your ankle
- Twisting or rotating your ankle
- Landing awkwardly on your foot
How is an ankle fracture diagnosed?
A fractured ankle may look similar to an ankle sprain, so you should seek advice if you have badly injured your ankle. The specialist will examine your ankle, checking for pain and joint instability. They will then take an x-ray of your ankle to look for any broken bones. Depending on the results, x-rays of other joints may also be taken to rule out any other injuries.
Treatment and recovery
The majority of ankle fractures can be treated by applying a plaster cast to your lower leg for around 6 weeks. This protects and immobilises the joint and allows the bones to heal. You will need to avoid weight-bearing on your ankle during this time.
In more complicated fractures, surgery may be needed to re-align the bones properly. Special screws and metal plates are attached to the outer surface of the bones to hold them in position whilst they heal[i]. After surgery, a plaster cast will be applied for up to 6 weeks.
Your foot and ankle specialist will prescribe medications for pain relief, and they may monitor the bone healing process by taking repeated x-rays[ii]. After the cast has been removed, physiotherapy can often help recovery and allow you to gently start using your ankle again. You should begin to return to your normal level function within 3-6 months.
[i] Orthoinfo.aaos.org. (2019). Ankle Fractures. [online]. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/ankle-fractures-broken-ankle/ [Accessed 18 Jan. 2019].
[ii] Patient.info, Lowth, M. (2019). Ankle Fractures. [online]. Available at: https://patient.info/doctor/ankle-fractures [Accessed 18 Jan. 2019].