Ankle Fractures – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Ankle injuries are among the most common of the bone injuries. An ankle fracture is also known as a broken ankle. These types of fractures occur when one or more of the ankle joint bones separate into pieces. It is typical for the ankle ligaments to be damaged with an ankle injury. The types of ankle fractures and injury we cover include lateral malleolus fracture, medial malleolus fracture, posterior malleolus fracture, bimalleolar fracture, and trimalleolar fracture.

Anatomy

The ankle consists of three bones that come together: the tibia (shin bone), the fibula (small lower leg bone), and the talus (a foot bone). The medial malleolus is the inner portion of the tibia. The posterior malleolus is the back portion of the tibia. The lateral malleolus is the end of the fibula. The syndesmosis is the joint between the fibula and tibia, which connects together with ligaments.

Cause

Broken ankles occur in all age groups. They come about when there is twisting or rotating of the ankle during a fall or impact of a car accident. Many refer to this type of injury as a “rolled” ankle.

Symptoms

A severe ankle sprain feels the same as a broken ankle. Common complaints include immediate, severe pain, bruising, tenderness to the touch, swelling, inability to bear weight, and a deformity of the ankle. For severe ankle fractures, the bone may protrude through the skin.

Diagnosis

Because it is difficult to tell a sprain from a fracture, our orthopedic specialists recommend an evaluation by x-ray. Depending upon the type of fracture the surgeon finds, he may order a “stress x-ray” for further evaluation. In some cases, the surgeon orders a computed tomography (CAT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for further evaluation.

Lateral Malleolus Fracture Treatment

A lateral malleolus fracture is a fracture of the fibula bone. Since there are different levels at which the fibula can be injured, the treatment depends on the severity.

Nonsurgical Treatment - When lateral malleolus fractures are not out of place, the surgeon will treat these without surgery. The surgeon places you in a short leg cast or other device for protection. Depending on the injury, you will not be able to put weight on the affected leg for 4 to 6 weeks, meaning you will have to use crutches.

Surgical Treatment - For lateral malleolus fractures that are out of place, the orthopedic specialist will perform surgery on the injury. To make the ankle stable, he uses a plate and screws or screws and a rod. These attach to the bone fragments to realign the fibula so it can heal properly.

Medial Malleolus Fracture Treatment

A medial malleolus fracture can also involve injury to the fibula, the posterior malleolus, and the ankle ligaments. Just like the lateral types, the orthopedic specialist treats medial malleolus fractures according to their severity.

Nonsurgical Treatment - If the fracture is in alignment, it can be treated without surgery. The doctor put you in a removable brace or short leg cast to be worn for 4 to 6 weeks. The doctor recommends crutches also for a period of time.

Surgical Treatment - The surgeon will perform a procedure if the medial malleolus fracture is unstable and out of alignment. If the injury includes impaction of the ankle joint (damage to the cartilage surfaces), the surgeon will sometimes apply bone graft to repair it and decrease later risk of arthritis development. Many different techniques are used for this type of surgery.

Posterior Malleolus Fracture Treatment

A posterior malleolus fracture is a break in the back of the shinbone near the ankle joint. These types of fractures often include ligament damage. Many times with a posterior malleolus fracture, a lateral malleolus injury occurs.

Nonsurgical Treatment - Like other ankle fractures, fractures that are in alignment can often be treated conservatively without surgery. The orthopedic specialist will place you in a short leg cast or other device and recommend crutches for 4 to 6 weeks.

Surgical Treatment - Surgery is necessary when the bones are not in proper position, and the break is serious. The surgeon can use screws and plates along the back area of the shinbone to hold the bones in place while they heal.

Bimalleolar Fracture Treatment

“Bi” simply means two. When fractures are bimalleolar, this means that two or more parts of the malleoli of the ankle are involved. These injuries typically involve the lateral malleolus and the media malleolus. Bimalleolar fractures are not stable, as they are also often associated with ligament damage. Many times, there is a break of the fibula along with other structure damage.

Nonsurgical Treatment - Bimalleolar fractures require surgery. However, if you have significant health problems, the surgeon will not operate and recommend conservative treatment. The doctor uses a splint or short leg cast to stabilize and protect the injury. Also, you will not be able to bear weight on the ankle for 4 to 6 weeks.

Surgical Treatment - Because of the complexity of these types of fractures, the orthopedic specialist may combine surgical techniques in order to repair the various structures. Often times, a plate and screws are used to align bone fragments. Also, it may be necessary for the surgeon to use bone graft in bimalleolar fractures.

Trimalleolar Fracture Treatment

“Tri” means three. Trimalleolar injuries involve all three malleoli of the ankle. These types of fractures are unstable injuries and dislocation is common.

Nonsurgical Treatment - Unless you are in considerable poor health, the orthopedic specialist will recommend surgery for trimalleolar fractures. However, if you cannot undergo surgery, the surgeon will place your lower leg in a cast or removable device for stabilization and place you on crutches.

Surgical Treatment - These types of fractures are complex and require a combination of surgical efforts for repair. The surgeon will often use plates and screws, bone grafting, and other techniques during the procedure. Because dislocation is common, the doctor will have to properly align the bone and ligaments.

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