November 5, 2019
Woman with ankle fracture

The Anatomy of Ankle Fractures

Ankle joints consist of three bones that come together to support the overall structure and enable motion. These include the tibia, fibula, and talus.

The tibia is the lower leg’s main bone and makes up the inside of the ankle joint. The smaller fibula parallels the tibia to make up the outside of the joint. Both bones’ far ends are called malleoli, which together form an arch that rests atop the talus. Around the joint itself is a protective fibrous membrane, encased within a smooth layer called the synovium, known as the joint capsule. The joint is supported by several ligaments that help hold ankle bones in position.

The Causes of Ankle Fractures

Ankle injuries like fractures are most likely to happen when the joint is stressed beyond its capacity. Depending on how long the stress lasted and how traumatic it was, the breakage could be more or less severe. When only ligaments are damaged, this is considered a sprain. However, if the bone experiences damage, this is known as a fracture. Both torn ligaments and fractures can occur together, further exacerbating the injury. These often happen when ankles are twisted side to side, flexed or over-extended, rolled, or experience severe force on the joint (such as landing from a jump). 

Symptoms of Ankle Fractures

Signs of ankle fractures are usually obvious. The most common complaint is pain, which can be mild to severe. Pain may not come from the same area where the fracture occurred. There may also be associated fractures in the knee or the foot, especially on the side of the smallest toe. Often, this pain can prevent walking or make it difficult. The ankle typically swells, but not always. The swelling usually means there is damage to soft tissue and blood around or within the joint. 

You may also experience bruising and discoloration around the joint, but this will not happen right away. Bruising can often spread far beyond the site of the injury itself. Severe fractures can cause noticeable visual deformities in the ankle bones, such as skin stretching over an underlying broken bone or tearing to show exposed broken bone. Injured nerves and blood vessels in the foot can cause even more pain as well as numbness, pale skin on foot, and difficulty or inability moving your toes or foot.

When to Get Help

If you have injured your ankle and believe it to be a fracture, there are several things to watch out for. Your symptoms will help you figure out if you need medical attention right away or only some rest and recovery. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should see a doctor whenever possible:

  • Ankle will not bear the weight
  • Pain does not decrease over time or with medications
  • Remedies like elevating your ankle, resting, and applying ice, do not seem to be improving symptoms

You should seek emergency medical attention if you experience:

  • Visible bones puncturing the skin
  • Unbearable pain even with medications
  • Major bone deformities
  • Inability to move the ankle, foot, or toes
  • Partial or total numbness in the ankle
  • Your foot becomes cold or turns blue

TAGS ankle , ankle fracture , ankle injury , break , broken ankle