An ankle fracture is one of the most common injuries of the lower leg.
The ankle comprises of three bones – tibia, fibula, and talus. Tibia and fibula bones run downward from the knee to the ankle.
The tibia, or shin bone, is thicker, larger, and the weight-bearing bone of the leg. The fibula, or the calf-bone, runs parallel to the tibia and provides it with stability.
The talus is a small wedge-shaped bone that is located deep in the ankle. It helps support both the tibia and fibula.
The most commonly occurring ankle fracture (55%) is the lateral malleolus fracture in the fibula above the ankle joint.
If the broken bone remains aligned in its correct position, it is referred to as a non-displaced ankle fracture. If the bones are misaligned or separated, it is referred to as a displaced ankle fracture.
How does an ankle fracture occur?
Sudden trauma is the most common cause behind an ankle injury. Examples of these include:
- Twisting, rolling, or rotating your ankle
- Slipping or tripping on your ankle
- Motor vehicle accident
- Jumping or falling from a height on your ankle
- Dropping something heavy on your ankle
According to the National Library of Medicine study, the two most common causes of ankle fractures were falls (61%) and sports injuries (22%).
- Symptoms of an ankle fracture
The most common symptom is intense and immediate pain that may radiate to the leg and foot. Other symptoms of the condition include:
- Swelling at the joint
- Redness, bruising, and discoloration on the lower leg
- Inability to put weight on your foot
- Exposed bone in the case of an open fracture
Immediate care for ankle fractures
This painful injury requires urgent medical attention, as walking on a broken ankle can worsen the injury. Here are some measures you can take until you can get professional help.
- Try not to put any weight on your injured leg.
- Keep the leg elevated with clothes or cushions to control the swelling.
- Wrap your injured ankle with a compression bandage or a kitchen towel if the fracture is not exposed. Do not wrap it too tight.
- Apply ice to the injury over the compression bandage, not directly on the skin. If the fracture is exposed, do not apply any ice.
- If the fracture is open and the bone is protruding, cover it with a clean dressing. Do not try to push it back into place.
Treatment options for ankle fractures
The treatment plan depends on the location, type, and severity of the ankle fracture. In case of a severe ankle break, i.e., the bone is broken in more than one place or has been dislocated; you may require surgery.
For example, the most commonly employed method for ankle surgery in Georgia is open reduction and internal fixation using metal plates, rods, and screws to help realign the bone.
What is the duration of recovery?
The expected recovery period for ankle fracture surgery is between 6 and 10 weeks. Patients are required to wear a cast, splint, or walking boot regardless of whether they had surgery or not. You will require a mobility device such as crutches to help keep weight off the injured ankle.
After a few weeks, once your doctor has given you the get-go, you can start putting some weight on your foot to help you walk again. A walking boot is often advised during this time as it offers support and prevents sudden impact trauma.
Once your ankle has healed, you will be required to do some basic exercises to improve mobility. Muscle stiffness and contractures may occur after the cast or splint is removed.
Moving the ankle in all directions and other basic exercises help the foot get accustomed to mobility again. Swelling may persist for up to a year after the procedure.
Most people can walk normally as well as resume everyday activities again after approximately three months. However, the process of regaining strength and range of motion in your ankle may take several months.
You may return to engaging in high-impact activities, sports, and more when your doctor gives you the green light.
Remember to rest and elevate your ankle. Move your toes and bend your knees to avoid any stiffness in your muscles. Avoid itching as it may damage your skin and increase the risk of infection.
Avoid the vast from getting wet. If you are struggling with pain or discomfort, over-the-counter painkillers can help. Just make sure to confirm with your doctor beforehand.
Every ankle injury is different, as is healing. Healing takes at least six weeks. In the case of ruptured tendons and ligaments, the recovery time will be longer.
Be sure to follow up with your doctor regularly to check up on your progress. Regaining full strength and motion may take up to a year to get back to normal. Regardless, complete recovery is the ultimate goal.