Did you know that each year, across the United States, more than 1 million people visit the emergency room to deal with a painful ankle injury? An ankle fracture is an injury that does not discriminate, affecting soccer-playing kids, middle aged pick-up basketball weekend warriors, older adults (especially those with increased fall risk), car crash victims, and everyone in between. Anyone is susceptible, which means knowing what to do after an ankle injury is so important for you and your family.
Looking at Common Symptoms
Usually when you break your ankle, you’ll know something is wrong right away. The pain is often immediate and severe. Swelling, bruising, and tenderness swiftly follow. You may have difficulty putting any weight whatsoever on your foot, and may even notice a visible deformity or misalignment if bones have become displaced or a dislocation has occurred.
Is It Broken, or Just Sprained?
Due to the similarity of symptoms between a sprain and fracture, it may not be immediately obvious whether or not a break has actually occurred. In fact, a severe sprain could even be “masking” a fracture underneath. Because of this, we strongly recommend that you see us after any painful ankle injury. Failing to stabilize the ankle quickly after a fracture can make an already bad situation much worse. We’ve seen patients come to us weeks after a “sprain” or “twist” that turned out to be a much more serious break.
Your First Response
Once you’ve sustained an ankle injury, immediately discontinue activity and pursue RICE therapy – that means rest (by taking all weight and pressure off the ankle), icing the area, compressing with a bandage or elastic wrap, and elevating the ankle above chest level. Taking these steps will help guard against further damage and control swelling.
Your second step will be to contact Family Foot and Ankle Center and set up an appointment, ideally within 24 hours, for professional evaluation by a trained foot and ankle specialist. If you can’t get to us within a day, or need immediate trauma care, it’s wise to go the emergency room first, then follow up with us for a more thorough evaluation.
A wide variety of potential treatment options are available for a broken ankle—the precise course of action can only be determined after a complete evaluation by one of our trained podiatrists. Factors to be considered include age, health status, location of the break, whether the fracture is stable or unstable, and others.
In the best-case scenario—a relatively minor, stable break in a relatively protected area—you may be able to avoid surgery entirely. In such cases, a splint, short leg cast, or stability boot can be used to keep the bones from moving out of place as they heal. This may or may not be accompanied by a period of no weight bearing or crutches.
Once your broken ankle has healed, your foot, ankle, and leg will have lost some of their strength. In a follow up appointment we will see how much strength your ankle has lost and help you form a plan to help you regain the strength and mobility you had before your injury.
Ankle Fractures May Need Surgery
Unfortunately, surgery is often required to provide full healing for a serious break. Again, exact procedures can vary quite a bit depending on the location and severity of the fracture, but in general surgery involves cleaning out any loose bone fragments, realigning and repositioning the affected bones, then holding them together via hardware such as screws or plates. More substantial injuries, such as impaction injuries, may require bone grafts.
Recovery time varies depending on the procedure chosen, your overall health, and how closely you follow the surgeon’s instructions for post-operative care. We will discuss this with you before your appointment for surgery.
If you suspect there’s even a chance that your ankle is fractured, seek treatment right away. Family Foot and Ankle Center boasts 5 locations throughout Greater Cincinnati (including 2 within the city limits and 1 in Northern Kentucky), offering convenient care right where you live. To schedule an appointment, connect with us online or call toll-free at 888-689-3317.