In addition to being caused by serious events such as falling, being injured while playing sports or being in a car accident, fractured ankles are commonly caused by something so seemingly insignificant as twisting or rolling your ankle. While some fractures, especially those only involving one of the ankle bones (namely the tibia, fibula or talus), may not stop you from walking and carrying out your usual everyday tasks, others may have serious effects and prohibit you from even putting weight on the foot.
Ankle fractures may be mistaken for simple ankle sprains and vice versa, but it is always recommended to see a physician in case of an ankle injury, especially if you experience severe pain, bruising or swelling, if you are unable to put weight on the foot or if the shape of the ankle suddenly looks different or “funny.”
The First Step
If possible, immediately after orthopedic trauma occurs, such as in the case of an ankle fracture, seek medical attention. In addition, try to reduce the swelling by applying ice packs to the injured area, elevating the leg above heart level and by lightly compressing the ankle with an elastic wrap. Anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medications may help reduce some of the pain.
If the pain and symptoms persist or are severe, go see your doctor. If your doctor suspects an ankle fracture, the next step generally involves an imaging study of your ankle to determine if there is a fracture as well as where and how severe the fracture is. Common imaging modalities used include x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). If a fracture is found, you will likely be referred to an orthopedic surgeon for further evaluation and treatment.
The treatment of ankle fractures depends on the location, type and severity of the fracture and may be either surgical or non-surgical in nature. Non-surgical options include the use of a cast or brace and avoidance of bearing weight by using crutches, whereas orthopedic surgery typically involves a combination of screws, plates and wires placed under general anesthesia.
Whether you undergo surgery or not, weight bearing and the use of crutches is generally required for approximately six to 12 weeks, and it may take even longer to regain full movement of the ankle. As scary as orthopedic surgery may seem, it may be the only treatment option in some cases, and the only way to find out whether it’s needed or not is to see your doctor as soon as possible.