Broken ankles, or ankle fractures, are one of the most common causes of ankle pain. They’re also one of the most common bone fractures. Treatment for broken ankles depends on the fracture. More serious fractures require ankle surgery. It can take weeks or months for you to recover from an ankle fracture.
A broken ankle, or ankle fracture, is one of the most common causes of ankle pain. An ankle fracture happens when you break one or more bones in your ankle joint.
Your ankle joint consists of your tibia, your fibula and your talus. Your tibia is the big bone in your lower leg and is sometimes called your shinbone. Your fibula is a smaller, thinner bone in your lower leg. The lower ends of your fibula and tibia come together and butt up against your talus. Your talus is the main link between your leg and your foot.
You can break one or more ankle joint bones at the same time. The more bones you break, the more serious the injury. Serious fractures require ankle surgery. It can take several weeks to two years to fully recover from a broken ankle.
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It’s not always easy to know if that pain in your ankle means your ankle is sprained or broken. And if your ankle is broken, you probably won’t know if you’ve broken more than one bone until your healthcare provider can take a look.
Here are some symptoms you might experience if you have a broken ankle:
It would be difficult and painful to walk on a broken ankle. Beyond that, walking on a broken ankle could damage your tendons and ligaments supporting your ankle.
Most people break their ankles after taking a direct hit on their ankle. They might fall hard, or be struck by something that caused their ankle to break. Here are some ways that an ankle fracture can happen:
A sprained ankle happens when you stretch or damage your ankle ligaments through overuse or injury. Think of a piece of elastic that’s been through one too many cycles in the washer and dryer. You can have an ankle sprain because you have a broken ankle, but a sprained ankle won't cause your ankle to break.
Your healthcare provider has several tests they use to diagnose ankle fractures and determine the extent of your injury. Tests your provider might use to examine your fracture can include:
There are several types of ankle fractures affecting different parts of your ankle. Ankles are complicated. They’re made up of three bones and four ligaments, each doing a different job to keep your ankle in good working order. Here are the different types of ankle fractures:
When you’ve hurt your ankle, it can be hard to tell if you have a stress fracture or a bone fracture.
A stress fracture is a tiny crack in your bone. Generally speaking, you have a stress fracture if the pain in your ankle gets worse over time. A bone fracture is when a fracture changes the shape of your bone.
Ankle fracture treatment depends on factors such as the number of ankle bones broken. Not all broken ankles require surgery, but all broken ankles require some level of care to heal.
You probably won't need surgery if you have a stress fracture. You might need a brace or cast to support your ankle while it heals. More serious ankle fractures require reduction or surgery.
Reduction is when healthcare providers manipulate your ankle to line up the ends of your broken bones. You’ll receive local anesthesia to numb your ankle.
Ankle fractures are treated with surgery called open reduction internal fixation (ORIF). In ORIF, surgeons open up your injured ankle and line up the ends of your broken bones. They might also install metal plates, wires or screws to keep your ankle bones stable while the bones heal.
You'll receive general anesthesia. To prepare for general anesthesia, you should:
Complications can include:
Ankle fractures can take a long time to heal. Recovery depends on how much damage was done when you fractured your ankle. Most people can put weight on their ankle within 16 weeks after surgery. But it can take as long as two years for an ankle fracture to heal completely.
Many ankle fractures happen after traumatic events such as motor vehicle accidents, falling or being injured playing sports.
But you can fracture your ankle simply by taking a misstep while walking, stepping off a curb or stumbling over something in your home. You can limit this kind of risk by:
It takes time for a broken ankle to heal. If you had surgery to repair more than one ankle bone, it could be two years before your ankle is back to normal. If you didn't need surgery, your ankle might heal within 12 to 16 weeks.
An ankle fracture affects your quality of life, regardless whether or not you had surgery. There are several things to consider before you go back to work/school:
Here are typical post-surgery follow up appointments:
You should contact your healthcare provider or go to the emergency room if you have:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
It's important to remember you can re-injure your broken ankle if you move too quickly to resume activities. You might get frustrated or anxious waiting for your ankle to heal. Talk to your healthcare provider about your concerns. They will have suggestions and recommendations about programs and services that might help you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/02/2021.
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