Foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeons share symptoms to watch out for after an ankle injury
Rosemont, Ill. (December 30, 2021) – More than 1 million people visit emergency rooms each year with ankle injuries, unsure if they sustained an ankle sprain or a more significant fracture. And since both injuries can happen the same way, how do you know if your ankle is broken (fractured) or sprained? Learn how to tell the difference from the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) and foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeons.
Your ankle is made up of bones, cartilage (cushioning at the end of bones), tendons (connectors between bones and muscles), and ligaments (connectors between bones). An ankle sprain occurs when one of the ligaments tears after twisting or rolling the ankle. “After you sprain your ankle, there may be mild to moderate swelling or bruising,” said Natalie S. Mesnier, MD, a foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon at Multnomah Orthopedic Clinic in Portland, Oregon. “If the injury is a ‘run of the mill’ ankle sprain, you may have discomfort or a limp for a few hours or even a few days, but even with discomfort, you will be able to put weight on your ankle.”
Dr. Mesnier explains that a sprained ankle is graded by severity: Grade 1 (mild sprain), Grade 2 (moderate), or Grade 3 (severe). Most of the time, treatment for an ankle sprain is guided by the well-known acronym R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). For moderate or severe sprains, your foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon may consider a splint or walking boot to support the ankle and keep it stable, which allows the ligaments to heal as tightly as possible. With more severe sprains, crutches may also be helpful to minimize pain with walking.
A fracture is a partial or complete break in a bone. Similar to an ankle sprain, ankle fractures are usually caused by the ankle twisting inward or outward. If you break your ankle, you will very likely experience pain, swelling, bruising, and a significantly decreased ability to walk or bear weight. Your foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon will recommend initially treating the fracture with a splint or cast, rest, elevation, and ice. X-rays will reveal the type of fracture and will help determine treatment. A broken ankle can be treated conservatively with limited weight in a cast or boot, or with surgery if the bones or the joint need to be realigned. You will typically need crutches regardless of treatment.
How to Tell the Difference
These injuries occur on a spectrum. “On the very extreme end, if you hear a loud snap or see bone sticking out of the skin, it will be clear that you have broken your ankle. On the other end of the spectrum, however, it can be difficult for someone to tell the difference between a sprain and a fracture,” said Dr. Mesnier.
Dr. Mesnier notes there are several symptoms to watch for after injuring your ankle:
- Increasing and significant swelling and bruising
- Bone pain at the malleoli (the bony bump on either side of the ankle)
- An inability to put weight on your ankle immediately or in the days following
- The feeling that your bones are moving or that the ankle is shifting when you try to push through pain with walking
- Deformity or dislocation of your injured ankle
If you have these symptoms, seek medical attention and make an appointment with your foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon for further evaluation.
About Foot and Ankle Orthopaedic Surgeons
Foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeons are medical doctors (MD and DO) who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders and injuries of the foot and ankle. Their education and training consist of four years of medical school, five years of postgraduate residency, and a fellowship year of specialized surgical training. These specialists care for patients of all ages, performing reconstructive surgery for deformities and arthritis, treating sports injuries, and managing foot and ankle trauma.
About the AOFAS
The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) mobilizes our dynamic community of foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeons to improve patient care through education, research, and advocacy. As the premier global organization for foot and ankle care, AOFAS delivers exceptional events and resources for continuous education, funds and promotes innovative research, and broadens patient understanding of foot and ankle conditions and treatments. By emphasizing collaboration and excellence, AOFAS inspires ever-increasing levels of professional performance leading to improved patient outcomes. For more information visit the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society online at aofas.org.
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