Roaring Fork area residents are no strangers to ankle fractures. Winter sports such as snowboarding, skiing and ice skating (among others) have a higher probability of producing an injury to the ankle. There’s even a condition referred to as “Snowboarder’s Ankle.” Athletes in general are more susceptible to ankle fractures because of the excessive rolling and twisting of the ankle that leads to the actual fracture.
At OrthoAspen, our orthopedic specialists are dedicated to finding treatment solutions to help active area residents return to what they enjoy most.
The ankle joint is composed of three bones: the tibia, fibula and talus. The ends of the fibula and tibia (lower leg bones) form the inner and outer malleolus, which are the bony visible protrusions of the ankle. The joint is protected by a fibrous membrane called a joint capsule, and filled with synovial fluid to enable smooth movement.
An ankle fracture is a painful condition where a break occurs in one or more bones forming the ankle joint. The ankle joint is stabilized by different ligaments and other soft tissues, which may also be injured during an ankle fracture.
In addition to sports-related causes, ankle fractures can also occur as a result of an accident, fall or other type of trauma that places extreme stress on the ankle.
There are several types of ankle fractures classified according to the location and ankle bone involved, which include:
- Lateral Malleolus Fracture
The lateral malleolus, the outer part of the ankle is fractured.
- Medial Malleolus Fracture
The medial malleolus, the inner part of the ankle is fractured.
- Posterior Malleolus Fracture
The posterior malleolus, the bony hump of the tibia, is fractured.
- Bimalleolar Fractures
Both the lateral and medial malleolus bones are fractured.
- Trimalleolar Fractures
All three lateral, medial and posterior bones are fractured.
- Syndesmotic Injury
Also referred to as a high ankle sprain, a syndesmotic injury isn’t classified as a fracture, but can be treated as one.
Symptoms of ankle fractures include:
- Immediate swelling and pain around the ankle
- Impaired mobility
- Occasional development of hemarthrosis, blood accumulates around the joint
- Severe deformity around the ankle joint that is clearly visible where the bone may protrude through the skin
- Tenderness and/or bruising (along both the affected ankle and leg)
- Difficulty or inability to apply pressure or weight to the injured foot
At OrthoAspen, our priority is to provide an accurate assessment of your injury so the best treatment solution can be applied. Our goal is to get our patients back to the active lifestyle they’re accustomed to—as quickly and safely as possible.
Diagnosis of ankle fractures begins with a physical examination, followed by X-rays and a CT scan of the injured area of the ankle. Usually it’s difficult to differentiate a broken ankle from other conditions such as a sprain, dislocation or tendon injury without having an X-ray of the injured ankle. In some cases, pressure is applied on the ankle and then special X-rays are taken. This procedure is called a stress test. This test is employed to check the stability of the fracture to decide if surgery is necessary. In complex cases an MRI scan may be recommended.
Immediately following an ankle injury and prior to seeing a doctor, ice packs should immediately be applied to the injury site, with the foot elevated. This will help to minimize pain and swelling.
The treatment of ankle fracture depends upon the type and the stability of the fractured bone.
Non-surgical methods include:
- Realignment of the ankle bone, accompanied by a special splint or a plaster cast for a minimum of two to three weeks.
In the event surgery is required, the fractured bone is accessed by an incision over the ankle area. Specially designed plates are then screwed onto the bone, to realign and stabilize the fractured parts. The close of the procedure includes an incision that’s sutured closed along with immobilization of the operated ankle with a splint or cast.
After ankle surgery, you will be instructed to avoid putting weight on the ankle by using crutches while walking for at least six weeks.
Physical therapy of the ankle joint will be recommended by the doctor. After 2-3 months of therapy, the patient may be able to perform normal daily activities.