Broken ankles are a common injury, as well as one of the most common types of fractures—particularly among people who play sports or enjoy maintaining an active lifestyle. Whether you consider yourself a serious athlete or play on a company or community team, an ankle fracture can leave you in pain and sitting on the sidelines.
Fortunately, with proper treatment from an experienced sports podiatrist, a broken ankle doesn't have to interrupt your goals—or athletic progress—in the long term. Here's what you should know about these injuries, including how Dr. Sarah Stewart of Grandville Foot and Ankle can help you heal so you can safely return to the sports you love.
Common Causes of Sports-Related Ankle Fractures
A fracture can occur if you twist, rotate, or roll your ankle; trip and fall; or sustain a sudden impact—any and all of which can happen while playing sports. Other sports-related causes and risk factors for broken ankles include:
- Playing high-impact sports, such as soccer, basketball, football, gymnastics, or tennis
- Wearing old, poorly fitting, or unsupportive athletic shoes
- Using sports equipment improperly
- Failing to use proper training techniques, like warming up and stretching
- Suddenly increasing the frequency, duration, or difficulty of activity
Types of Fractures
The three bones that make up the ankle joint, Tibia, Fibula, and talus, can break in a variety of combinations, leading to a wide range of different types of fractures, categorized by the number and position of breaks. Some of the most common kinds of ankle fractures include:
- Lateral malleolus fracture. A fracture to the outside bone of the ankle; the Fibula
- Bimalleolar ankle fracture. A break involving fractures of the knobby bumps on the inside (medial malleolus) and outside (lateral malleolus) of the ankle.
- Trimalleolar ankle fracture. A break with fractures in the tibia's medial malleolus, as well as the lateral malleolus and posterior malleolus of the lower tibia.
- Pilon fracture. Also known as plafond fractures, a pilon fracture is a break through the middle part of the lower tibia.
- Stress fracture. A stress fracture is a small break within the bone caused by an abnormal increase in activity or unusual amount of impact on the ankle.
An ankle fracture can range from a simple break in one bone to several fractures in various bones, including fractures of the cartilage inside your joint called osteochondritis dessicans. Fractures can also result in displacement which will guide treatment recommendations. A displaced fracture means that pieces of the bone are partially or completely separated. Nondisplaced fractures still are broken bones, but the pieces of bone were not separated far enough during the break to be out of alignment. Fractures that are not repaird that are displaced can result in chronic pain in the future, as well as alignment problems referred to as misaligned fractures.
Broken ankles can cause an array of temporarily debilitating symptoms, such as significant pain, swelling, bruising, and tenderness to the touch. You may also have difficulty walking or bearing weight on the affected ankle, or notice a visible deformity.
Ankle fractures and ankle sprains can look and feel the same on the surface. Ankle fractures have a more severe pain, and it will be almost impossible to bear weight onto the foot if your bone is broken. Not all ankle fractures require surgery, especially if it is a non-displaced fracture. Patients who do not need surgery still need specific treatment and care to aid them in the recovery process, and patients who need surgery should be acting quickly. Untreated severe ankle fractures may lead to complications in the future such as
Ankle instability and/or deformity
Ankle misalignments and deformities
Chronic swelling and pain around and in the ankle
Diagnosis and Treatment
Ankle fractures and soft-tissue injuries like strains and sprains share many of the same symptoms. As a result, a podiatrist will perform a thorough physical examination and may take advantage of X-rays in order to diagnose your fracture and come up with a treatment plan. Depending on the type and severity of the break, treatment options can include:
- Medications to relieve pain and reduce swelling
- Immobilization with a cast or special boot or brace
- Correcting the alignment through manipulation of the pieces in a displaced fracture back to proper positioning
- Surgery, which may require the use of plates, rods, or screws to hold the broken bone in place while it heals
The goal of a surgical procedure after an ankle fracture is to stabalize the bones and have them heal overtime as closely to proper alignment as possible. Even a very small misalignment or displacement of bone in a joint can lead to sever ankle arthritis and chronic pain in the future. It is easier to treat an ankle fracture immediately than it is to fix problems down the road due to improper treatment.
Providing the Highest Standard of Care in Podiatric Sports Medicine
At Grandville Foot and Ankle, our exceptional podiatrist Dr. Stewart is dedicated to making sure your ankle fracture heals correctly, so you can get back to the sports and athletic activities you enjoy. We can also offer advice to help you avoid ankle breaks in the future. Don't wait another minute to take the first step toward healthier feet and ankles.
Schedule an Appointment
Contact us today to schedule an appointment with Dr. Stewart. Complete the contact form or call 616-534-3920 and we'll be in touch as soon as possible.