According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, doctors have noticed an increase in the number and severity of broken ankles since the 1970s, due, in part, to the Baby Boomer generation being active throughout every stage of their lives.
The ankle has two joints, one on top of the other, and three bones. A broken ankle can involve one or more of the bones, as well as injury to the surrounding connecting tissues or ligaments.
There are a wide variety of causes for broken ankles, most commonly a fall, an automobile accident, or sports-related trauma. Because a severe sprain can often mask the symptoms of a broken ankle, every ankle injury should be examined by a physician.
Symptoms of a broken ankle include:
- Immediate and severe pain.
- Inability to put any weight on the injured foot.
- Tenderness to the touch.
- Deformity, particularly if there is a dislocation or a fracture.
The treatment for a broken ankle usually involves a leg cast or brace if the fracture is stable. If the ligaments are also torn, or if the fracture created a loose fragment of bone that could irritate the joint, surgery may be required to secure the bones in place so they will heal properly.
Ankle Fractures Are Often Not Diagnosed
Mistaking an ankle fracture for an ankle sprain has serious consequences when the bone does not heal correctly. A correct diagnosis ensures proper recovery and reduces long-term complications.
An ankle fracture involves a crack or break in the bones that form the ankle joint. A sprain involves a ligament or ligaments that hold the ankle bones together. Both injuries can happen simultaneously when the ankle moves beyond its normal range of motion or in an awkward position, but a fracture requires more complex treatment than a sprain.
Pain or inability to walk are not good tests to determine if an ankle injury is a sprain or a fracture because walking is still possible with less severe injuries. Telltale signs of a fracture include bruising, blisters, significant swelling or bone protruding through the skin. In addition to bone, ankle fractures can also involve cartilage surrounding bones.
Those with unrecognized ankle fractures have a high risk of developing infection, arthritis and foot deformities that may make it impossible to walk normally again. Among those at highest risk for ankle fractures are postmenopausal women ages 50 to 70 with osteoporosis.
If you have suffered an ankle injury and are not sure if it is a fracture or a sprain, call our office to schedule an evaluation.