Breaking things can be no fun (although small children seem to enjoy it),
whether the broken thing is an expensive china dish, an egg dropped to the
floor, or your computer. Breaking bones can be especially unpleasant, since
recovering from these breaks often takes many weeks, even months. A break
in the ankle joint can be particularly nasty, since it’s pretty difficult
to walk around when your ankle is all discombobulated. You may take your
ankles for granted, but you’ll find you miss them terribly when they’re no
longer working properly.
When people refer to the ankle, they’re really talking about an area where
three different bones move around: the tibia (often called the shin bone),
the fibula (a more slender bone to one side of the tibia) and the talus,
which is a foot bone. The ankle is where these three bones meet and
interact with one another. Fractures of the ankle usually take place in
either the fibula or the tibia, and if you’re really unlucky, both bones
may break. Such breaks can range anywhere from a relatively minor cracking
of the bone or small bits of bone breaking off, to major breaks where the
bone actually pierces and protrudes through the skin. Treatment and
recovery time will vary greatly depending on the type of break you
Adding a sort of insult to injury, your bones may not be your only problem
when you break your ankle. Whatever caused the break in the first place may
also have torn the ligaments around the area, which may require additional
treatment. (Plus, it makes the whole thing hurt more, which is about the
last thing you need.)
Ankle breaks usually come about as a result of some sort of event or action
(as opposed to a gradually developing condition). These might include
falling, tripping, twisting or rolling your ankle (something it is
decidedly not designed to do), a weight of some sort falling on your ankle,
or (and these most often cause crushing types of breaks) a car accident.
The most common cause of a broken ankle is twisting it, so you’ll want to
be particularly careful when twirling about.
Occasionally, breaks may happen when people overuse their feet. Usually
such breaks (referred to as stress fractures) are small cracks in the
bones. Running long distances or having osteoporosis make you more
vulnerable to experiencing this type of fracture.
First off, you should know that having a broken ankle doesn’t always mean
you won’t be able to walk on it. So if you’re able to take a few steps
without collapsing, that doesn’t necessarily mean your bones are nice and
whole. In fact, with some minor fractures, you may be able to walk
relatively well (‘relatively’ being the key word, here). In short, if
you’ve injured your ankle, you really ought to get it looked at; don’t
assume you’re fine just because you aren’t hopping around on one foot.
However, if you find you’re not able to put weight on the ankle, then you
most definitely should get it seen by your podiatrist.
Some other symptoms you should look for include pain (which should be
pretty obvious-hello, you’ve just broken your ankle, people), which may
actually occur at any point on your leg between your foot and your knee.
The pain will likely occur immediately after the break, and will probably
be of the throbbing sort. You may notice that the pain reduces slightly as
you rest the ankle, but increases if you move it or put weight on it.
You may also experience swelling in the area (caused by increased bloodflow
sent to try to repair the injury), although again this swelling may not be
confined just to the ankle and may extend up your leg. Blisters and
bruising may also appear, making your ankle look really quite pathetic.
(The blisters should be seen to by your foot doctor, by the way, although
putting a compression bandage over them may reduce the pain a little.)
By comparing it to your other (hopefully uninjured) ankle, you may notice
that the injured one has begun to look a bit distorted, either because of
swelling or because the bones are now out of alignment. In the most serious
type of break (sometimes called a compound fracture), you’ll see bone
poking out from the skin. This is very serious, since the exposed bone and
the flesh around the wound is vulnerable to infection. See your doctor
immediately if this occurs.
If you’ve injured your ankle in any way, and especially if you suspect you
may have broken it, you really ought to see your podiatrist as soon as
possible. When you get in to see the foot doctor (after having come in very
soon after the injury because you’re conscientious like that), he or she
will probably examine the area visually and touch the ankle to see what
parts are most painful.
In order to firmly diagnose a fracture, your podiatrist will also likely
suggest some sort of imaging to get a look at the bones themselves. This
may be accomplished by getting an X-ray, a CT (or Computerized Tomography)
scan, an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), or a bone scan. (Bone scans use
a small amount of radioactive material to locate breaks in the bone.)
Right after the break, and before you’re able to get to the podiatrist’s
office, you can do a few things to reduce the pain and swelling a little.
Use the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) to decrease
bloodflow to the area. Don’t soak your injured ankle in hot water, since
this will just increase the blood and pressure in the area, making the
swelling and pain worse.
Once your foot doctor diagnoses a break, he or she will help you determine
the best method of treatment to insure that your bones heal nicely. Some
non-surgical methods generally revolve around immobilizing the ankle so the
bones will stay in their proper positions and knit together properly. The
podiatrist may do this by putting a splint on the ankle, or by applying a
cast. He or she may also give you a prescription for medications to manage
the pain and swelling.
If the break is bad enough, your injury may require surgery to set things
to rights. Surgery on broken bones generally involves inserting metal pins,
screws or plates into the bone to keep the fragments in place as they knit
back together. It may sound kind of strange (and a little disgusting) to
have bits of metal inside you, but it’s a remarkably effective way to get
your bones back to the way they’re supposed to be.
Always remember-follow the instructions your podiatrist gives you to the
letter, and follow up with him or her on a regular basis. Fractures usually
heal pretty slowly, and you don’t want to have to go through the entire
Call 719-543-2476 today to schedule your appointment!