As much as it is important to know what a physical therapist can do to help an injury I think it is just important to understand the injury itself. Part of clients being an active part of their own recovery is knowledge, so I decided to write a two part series about ankle fractures.
With that being said let’s dive right in!
What is an Ankle Fracture?
An ankle fracture is what happens when you completely or partially break a bone on one or both sides of your ankle joint. There are several types of ankle fractures, and 1, 2, or 3 bones may be fractured in each case. The classifications of the fracture and severity are as follows:
– Lateral malleolus fracture. The fibula – only the bone on the outside of the ankle – is broken.
– Medial malleolus fracture. The tibia – only the bone on the inside of the ankle – is broken.
– Bimalleolar fracture. Both the fibula and the tibia are broken.
– Trimalleolar fracture. The fibula, tibia, and the posterior malleolus (the tibia at the back of the foot) are all broken.
The severity of the fracture is classified as:
– Nondisplaced. This is when the pieces of the fractured bone remain lined up.
– Displaced. When this happens 2 parts of the fractured bone do not line up.
– Comminuted. Splinters or multiple small pieces of bone are found at the fracture site.
– Complex Fracture. This is when the soft tissue surrounding the broken bone is severely damaged.
– Compound Fracture. Fracture fragments can pierce the skin in this case.
It is important to remember that when a fracture involves several broken bones or the bones do not remain lined up, the fracture is considered to be unstable and requires immediate treatment. A compound fracture also involves a risk of infection – so be sure to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Signs and Symptoms
Recognizing that you have a fracture is half the battle, so please keep the following in mind. If you have suffered a fracture in your ankle you may experience:
– Immediate, severe pain after a twisting injury or fall.
– A “pop” or “snap” felt or heard at the time of the injury.
– Swelling of the ankle.
– Tenderness or pain in your ankle area.
– Difficulty bearing weight on the ankle when standing or walking.
– Not being able to put any weight on the ankle.
– Pain that increases with activity and improves with rest.
– Inability to put a shoe on due to swelling and pain.
– A bump or deformity that may be seen or felt at the ankle.
How Is It Diagnosed?
If you choose to see a physical therapist after an ankle injury, he/she will ask about your medical history, and how the injury happen. Your physical therapist will observe your ability to walk and bear weight on the injured ankle, and gently examine the area to see if there is any swelling, deformity, and test for tenderness. Your physical therapist also will examine your foot and lower leg to identify whether other areas may have also been injured. If a fracture is suspected, your physical therapist will consult with your physician and likely order an x-ray to confirm or rule out an ankle fracture.
It is important to have an ankle injury assessed by your physical therapist or medical provider soon after an ankle injury, to distinguish a severe sprain from a broken bone – so make sure to make time to get a proper diagnosis.
And this should go without saying, but just in case, remember that if you injure your ankle and the bone is piercing the skin you need to go to a hospital emergency room immediately.
That concludes part one of my two part ankle fracture series. Check back next week to find out the different courses of treatment if you suffer an ankle fracture, what to expect from physical therapy, and how to prevent this type of injury.
As always if you are worried about a recent injury please do not hesitate to give us a call and book an appointment. You can reach us at 201-585-7300 or fill out the contact form online.