Diagnosis and treatment of a broken ankle
To diagnose your broken ankle, your doctor will examine your ankle and may order the following imaging tests:
- X-ray imaging: the most common test for a broken ankle
- CT scan and MRI: useful for finding stress fractures or soft tissue damage from a broken ankle
Although many ankle fractures heal with nonsurgical treatment, surgery may be necessary for a bone that is dislocated, if part of it has broken off, or if the ankle is unstable.
Your broken ankle treatment at Dignity Health may include:
- Staying off the ankle (not putting weight on it)
- Over-the-counter pain relievers
- RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation
- Splints, casts, or boots
If surgery is necessary, your doctor may recommend:
- Bone grafting: This creates scaffolding on which new bone grows to heal the fracture.
- Fusing bones: Bringing bones together allows them to heal as one piece.
- Repositioning bones: This involves taking bones that are out of place and fixing them in place with screws, plates, or wires (also known as reduction).
For some, an ankle fracture may require rehabilitation to return to daily activities. Other people may just need time to heal.
Your recovery time depends on several factors, such as:
- Your age
- Your overall health and physical fitness
- The severity and location of the break(s)
Many ankle fractures heal in about six weeks. However, if your injury includes damage to the soft tissues or requires surgery, your recovery time may be longer.
After ankle surgery, the ankle should be kept still and elevated for the first few weeks. After the removal of sutures (usually after about two weeks), you will be placed in a removable splint for an additional four to six weeks of recovery time.
During the healing process, your doctor will likely order additional x-rays to ensure that your bones are healing properly. You may then begin physical therapy to regain strength and mobility.
Ask your doctor or physical therapist to learn more about your broken ankle recovery.
When you should see a doctor for an ankle injury
Without an x-ray or MRI, it can be challenging to determine whether an ankle injury has resulted in a break or a sprain. Some severe sprains that do not involve a broken bone are very painful. On the other hand, some people find that they can still walk even if they do have an ankle fracture.
If not appropriately treated, broken ankles can cause complications down the road, such as arthritis, malformation of the joint, and instability.
Therefore, if you experience any of the following signs and symptoms, we recommend seeking the advice of a physician as soon as possible:
- You notice bruising, discoloration, or severe swelling around the injured area
- You have trouble moving your foot/ankle
- You can’t put weight on the injured ankle
- You heard a popping or grinding sign at the time of injury
- You experience severe pain that does not improve after 24 hours or with RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation)
- Any part of your ankle looks misshapen or improperly aligned with your foot
Put your health in good hands by trusting Dignity Health with your broken ankle treatment and recovery. Use our Online ER Waiting Service to find the nearest location before you leave home.
With an extensive network of emergency departments, Dignity Health provides reliable care for broken ankles throughout the country.
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.