A fractured or broken ankle is a partial or complete break of one or more bones in the ankle. A broken ankle is most commonly caused by physical activity like running or jumping, or by impact from falling or tripping. Fractured or broken bones are also commonly caused by car accidents.
While the severity of your broken ankle may vary, this injury is highly treatable for most people.
Symptoms of a Broken Ankle
Signs of a broken ankle include:
- Immediate pain after the injury
- Swelling, bruising, and in some cases visible deformity
- Difficulty walking, bearing weight, or wearing shoes
- Pain or tenderness with any movement of the ankle
If symptoms persist for more than two or three days, you should consult a doctor. Ankle fractures are often misinterpreted as an ankle sprain or strain.
Evaluating Your Broken Ankle
If you believe your ankle is sprained, strained, or fractured, you should have it examined by a medical professional immediately. He or she will be able to determine the exact cause of swelling, bruising, and pain.
During your appointment, your doctor will conduct a physical exam of your ankle and the surrounding area to pinpoint the injury and its severity. Your doctor may need to request imaging to see the injury more clearly or evaluate the severity. This may include an X-ray or MRI.
Diagnosing a Broken Ankle
Common types of broken ankles include stable and unstable fractures:
- Stable fractures are when the broken bones remain aligned with each other, barely out of place
- Unstable fractures occur when there are multiple breaks or the break is extended into the ankle joint, or has damaged the cartilage; unstable ankle fractures are often the result of a high-impact accident
Treatment for a Broken Ankle
After diagnosing your fracture, your doctor will develop an individualized treatment plan specific to your injury and your needs. Stable breaks can typically be treated without surgery and will require you to keep weight off of the injury for a period of time.
A stable ankle break often requires you to wear a boot or cast, or use crutches for a set amount of time. Your doctor also may recommend Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen to help relieve pain and physical therapy to help regain strength in your ankle.
Unstable fractures typically require surgery to reset bones and ligaments of the broken ankle and may require pins, screws, or other implements to stabilize the area. Following surgery your doctor will prescribe a physical therapy plan to help regain the strength and stability. Whether healed surgically or not, your doctor may also recommend:
- Pain management – NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, can help reduce pain and swelling of a broken ankle.
- Physical therapy – Once it’s recommended by your physician, physical therapy keeps your ankle moving and helps you build up muscle support around the break.
- Ankle supports – Whether or not your ankle is treated surgically, your doctor may recommend wearing an ankle brace for up to a few months after the injury is healed.
Broken Ankle Recovery Time
Recovery time for a broken ankle is different for each injury and can be dependent on the level of activity you want to return to (e.g. daily life or elite sports), the severity of the ankle fracture, and the extent of the surgery. Most stable ankle fractures require you to refrain from putting weight on your foot with the use of crutches and a boot or a cast for four to six weeks before starting physical therapy.
Physical therapy will often progress after two months. At that point most patients are able to walk around, but are still not able to resume athletic activity. According to Stephen Conti, MD, foot and ankle surgeon at Orthopaedic Specialists – UPMC, recovery for a stable ankle fracture usually requires three to four months before a patient is able to return to low-impact athletic activities.
For unstable ankle fractures that require surgery, the timeline for recovery can be nine months to one year before a patient can return to any type of significant athletic activity.
To learn more about broken ankles, or to schedule an appointment with a UPMC Orthopaedic Care expert, visit UPMC.com/Ortho.