A broken ankle is a relatively common injury, often caused by twisting the ankle, falls or a sports injury. It may be treated with a plaster cast or surgery and full recovery usually takes between 8 and 12 weeks.
If you suspect a broken ankle, go immediately to your nearest doctor.
How do I know if my ankle is broken or cracked?
Doctors refer to breaks or cracks in bones as fractures. If you injure your ankle, the following may indicate a fracture:
- pain – particularly in the bones around the ankle
- you are unable to walk
- swollen ankle
- a ‘crack’ sound
- the ankle is a funny shape (dislocated)
- there is bone poking out of the skin (open or compound fracture)
- If the injury is not severe it can be difficult to tell if your ankle is broken or just sprained (see sprains and strains). An X-ray is needed to confirm a broken ankle and you need to see an orthopaedic specialist to manage your broken ankle.
Because of the shock and pain of breaking your ankle, you may feel faint, dizzy or sick.
What you can do
Try to avoid putting any weight on the ankle. Ask a friend or relative to drive you to a doctor and support your weight as you walk on your other foot. Raising the leg and applying an ice pack (try a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel) can help reduce pain and swelling.
How a broken ankle is treated
An X-ray is needed to confirm the fracture and to help decide on the appropriate treatment.
If your ankle is dislocated or the bones are bay misaligned (displaced) the doctors may decide to push them back into place (reduction).
You will be given strong painkillers or sedation to ensure your comfort during the procedure. Simple fractures where the bones have not moved do not require reduction.
Realigning the bones helps with pain and ankle swelling and reduces the risk of complications from the fracture.
Simple ankle fractures can be treated with a plaster cast. You will not be allowed to put weight on the broken ankle so crutches are needed to walk with.
Usually the plaster needs to be put on for six to eight weeks. After four weeks you may be able to put some weight on the ankle or change the plaster for a special removable boot.
You will be seen regularly at the orthopaedic clinic and have further X-rays to monitor the healing.
More severe fractures often require surgery to realign the bones and fix them.
The surgeon makes cuts in the skin near the ankle and the bones are put back into position. A combination of plates, screws and wires may be used to hold the bones together, and the wound is closed using stitches. This procedure is called open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF). Normally, the metalwork is not removed unless it becomes a problem.
Broken ankle can be done as a day surgery or some people will need to stay in hospital for overnight.
It takes about six to twelve weeks for a broken ankle to heal, but it make take longer to regain full movement of the lower leg and foot.
Follow your surgeon’s advice on moving and resting the ankle. It is important to attend all follow-up clinic appointments after you have been discharged from hospital.
You will be able to move around your home on crutches and manage stairs. You may be referred to a physiotherapist, who will show you exercises that may speed up your recovery.