Definition

An ankle fracture is a break of a bone in the ankle joint. The joint is made up of three bones:

    
  • Tibia (shin bone)—The main bone of the lower leg that runs along the inside of the leg
  • Fibula—The smaller bone of the lower leg that runs along the outside of the leg
  • Talus—The bone that provides the connection between the leg and the foot, and is less often fractured than the others
  • The ankle joint is supported by three groups of ligaments. An injury that causes a fracture may also damage one or more of these ligaments.

    Ankle Fracture

    ankle fracture

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    Causes

    An ankle fracture can occur when the joint is forced beyond its normal range of motion. It can also be caused by a direct blow to the bone itself. Any form of ankle trauma may cause injury, including:

        
  • Falls
  • Twists
  • Blows
  • Collisions
  • Risk Factors

    A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease, condition, or injury. Risk factors include:

        
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Osteoporosis (common in women after menopause and in older, less active people)
  • Any condition that increases the risk of falls, such as poor muscle control or poor balance
  • Participation in certain sports, such as basketball, football, soccer, and skiing
  • Being overweight can increase the risk of fractures and make rehabilitation more difficult
  • Symptoms

    Symptoms include:

        
  • Immediate pain (can be severe, but sometimes with fibula injuries, is surprisingly minor)
  • Swelling
  • Bruising around the injured area
  • Tenderness when touching the injured bone in the ankle area
  • Inability to put weight on the injured foot without pain, although some people are able to walk with minor fractures
  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, physical activity, and how the injury occurred. An examination of the injured area will be done.

    Tests may include x-rays to look for the broken bone.

    Treatment

    Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury. Treatment includes:

        
  • Putting the pieces of the bone back into position, which may require anesthesia and/or surgery
  • Holding the pieces together while the bone heals itself
  • Devices that may be used to hold the bone in place while it heals include:

        
  • A cast (may be used with or without surgery)
  • A metal plate with screws (requires surgery)
  • Screws alone (requires surgery)
  • A rod down the middle of the bone (requires surgery)
  • Your doctor may prescribe pain medication. They will order more x-rays while the bone heals to ensure that the bones have not shifted position.

    Exercises

    When your doctor decides you are ready, start range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. You may be referred to a physical therapist to help you with these exercises. Do not return to sports activity until your doctor says your ankle is fully healed. You will need near-normal motion and muscle strength.

    Healing Time

    It takes at least 6-8 weeks for even a simple ankle fracture to heal. It will be several months before you can return to intense physical activity.

    Prevention

    To help prevent ankle fractures:

        
  • Do not put yourself at risk for trauma to the ankle.
  • Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Do weight-bearing exercises to build strong bones.
  • Build strong muscles to prevent falls and to stay active and agile.