The ankle is one of the most versatile and valuable joints in your anatomy. If your ankle hurts, especially if it’s broken, your whole life shuts down—you can’t walk, you can’t work, and most hobbies and physical activities become impossible without pain.
Unfortunately, ankles are also a natural weak point, and breaks are common, especially among athletes and the elderly. A broken ankle needs immediate treatment, and not only to deal with the obvious pain: failure to treat an injury properly can lead to chronic complications such as ankle instability or arthritis.
Identifying a Broken Ankle
Is it a break or a sprain? Symptoms can be similar, as both frequently feature throbbing and immediate pain, swelling, tenderness, bruising, and other symptoms. Breaks tend to be more serious, and it’s more likely that you won’t be able to move the foot at all.
Both sprains and breaks require treatment, though with a break it’s much more important to stabilize the ankle and not to put any weight on the injury. It is good practice to avoid any weight bearing on any ankle injury until a doctor can evaluate the extent of the damage.
First Aid for an Ankle Fracture
First aid is critical to promote healing of any ankle injury. Remember the REST protocol:
- Rest: Don’t put any weight on the ankle until you have it professionally evaluated.
- Ice: Apply for 15 minutes at a time, no more than once per hour, to reduce swelling.
- Compression: Use an elastic bandage or compression wrap for stability and immobilization.
- Elevate: Keep the ankle above chest level to minimize swelling.
Call 911 immediately if you notice bleeding, shock, cold or blue skin, or are unable to move the foot. If the bone has broken the skin, cover with a clean bandage and leave it alone—do NOT attempt to push it back into place.
Schedule an appointment as soon as possible following an ankle injury—ideally within the first 24 to 48 hours.
Healing a Broken Ankle
The precise treatment protocol for a broken ankle will vary considerably, depending on which bones have been broken, whether or not the fracture is displaced, and other factors.
Comparably minor injuries (usually involving only 1 or 2 bones and a relatively stable ankle) may avoid the operating table. Non-surgical treatment typically involves immobilization of the ankle through casting or a brace. More serious or unstable injuries, however, will typically require a surgical procedure to reset bones, clean up any fragments, insert hardware to hold bones in place, or other techniques as necessary.
Healing time can also vary considerably, though the average is about six weeks. During this time you will receive instructions for keeping the surgery site dry and clean, and you will be asked to keep weight off the foot to promote full healing.
Rehabbing and Recovering from Your Injury
Gradually, you will be able to return to wearing regular shoes and light activity. When your doctor feels you are ready, you can begin physical therapy to re-strengthen weakened tissues and regain balance, flexibility, and range of motion. Do not attempt to do too much too soon, as this can impair healing. Always follow your surgeon’s directions to the letter—we promise, we know what we’re talking about, and the guidelines are designed to get you back to 100% as fast and successfully as possible.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore an ankle injury, particularly a break—but even if it’s just a sprain. Failing to pursue a proper treatment and rehabilitation plan in a timely fashion can lead to much worse outcomes, including increased or chronic pain and a greater incidence of future injuries.
If you break an ankle, seek any emergency medical attention or first aid necessary, then call Dr. Danciger at 760-568-0108 for follow-up care within the first 48 hours. It’s the best decision you can make for the long-term health of your feet.