What is an ankle fracture?
An ankle fracture is a break or crack in one or more of the bones in the ankle. It may be just a bend or small crack in the bone, or the bone may break into pieces or shatter. Some fractures may stick out through the skin.
The bones in the ankle are the tibia, fibula, and talus.
What is the cause?
A broken ankle is usually caused by a twisting of the ankle. It may also be caused by a fall, a direct hit to the leg, or a medical condition that causes weak or brittle bones.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include:
- A snapping or popping sound at the time of the injury
- Pain, swelling, bruising, or tenderness that happens right after the injury
- Pain when the injured area is touched or that keeps you from putting weight on your foot
- An area of the ankle or foot that is cold, pale, or numb
- A change in the shape of the ankle
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and how the injury happened. Your provider will examine you. Tests may include:
- X-rays of the ankle
- CT scan, which uses X-rays and a computer to show detailed pictures of the bones
- MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the bones
How is it treated?
The treatment depends on the type of fracture.
- If you have an open wound with the fracture, you may need treatment to control bleeding or prevent infection.
- If the broken bone is crooked, your healthcare provider will straighten it. You will be given medicine first so the straightening is less painful.
- Sometimes surgery is needed to put the bones back into the right position.
- Your provider may put your ankle in a cast, splint, or removable boot to keep it from moving while it heals.
- If you have a cast, make sure the cast does not get wet. Cover the cast with plastic when you bathe. Avoid scratching the skin around the cast or poking things down between the cast and your skin. This could cause an infection.
- Your provider will tell you how much weight you can put on your leg, if any. Use crutches, a knee walker, or a cane as directed by your healthcare provider.
With treatment, the fracture may take 6 to 9 weeks to heal. You may need to do special exercises to help your ankle get stronger and more flexible. Ask your healthcare provider about this.
How can I take care of myself?
Follow the full course of treatment your healthcare provider prescribes. Also:
- To keep swelling down and help relieve pain, your provider may tell you to:
- Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the injured area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time for the first day or two after the injury.
- Keep the ankle up on pillows when you sit or lie down.
- Take pain medicine, such as ibuprofen, as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take this medicine for more than 10 days.
Ask your healthcare provider:
- How and when you will hear your test results
- How long it will take to recover
- What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
- How to take care of yourself at home
- What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
How can I help prevent an ankle fracture?
Most broken ankles are caused by accidents that are not easy to prevent. However, shoes that fit well and give good support can help prevent injury.
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This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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