Your ankles may be small, but they have a big job, helping you stand, balance, and move. Made up of three bones, ligaments, and tendons, there are countless ways to injure this important joint — which is why it’s one of the most commonly injured joints in the United States.
Given the complex nature of the joint, even a minor displacement can cause a good deal of pain or discomfort. But is it possible to break your ankle and not realize it? The team of board-certified podiatrists at Arlington/Mansfield Foot & Ankle Centers are here to explain.
At our offices in Arlington and Mansfield, Texas, our experienced doctors help athletes, weekend warriors, and average Joes get back on their feet after an ankle fracture. We’ve compared notes and put together this guide to help you understand ankle injuries and when to seek help.
What’s involved with a broken ankle?
Broken ankle joints, or ankle fractures, involve a crack or break in one of the bones in your ankle joint. Yet not all ankle fractures are the same and can range from minor to very complicated.
For example, someone with a broken ankle may actually have what’s called a small avulsion fracture. This condition, which is sometimes referred to as a “chip fracture,” happens when a small piece of bone that connects to a tendon or ligament gets pulled away from the rest of the bone.
While a small avulsion fracture can be painful and requires medical intervention, it’s not as serious as a complex break involving multiple bones and dislocation. Some other common types of ankle fractures include:
- Ankle stress fracture: A small crack or bruise in one of the bones in the ankle, usually caused by beginning a new activity that involves impact to the feet (e.g., running) or by increasing an activity too quickly
- Lateral malleolus fracture: The most common type of ankle fracture, involving a break to the “bump” on the outside of your ankle
- Bimalleolar ankle fracture: Another common ankle fracture, involve breaks to the bumps on the outside and inside of the ankle
- Trimalleolar ankle fracture: A break on three sides of the ankle (the bumps on the outside and inside as well as the lower part of your fibula
- Pilon or plafond fracture: A break to the central part of the lower tibia, usually from a fall
- Maisonneuve fracture: A fracture of the fibula at the knee that causes a disruption of the ligaments in the ankle
Most of the types of fractures listed above can be either displaced (the bones are misaligned or separated) or nondisplaced (bones are still in the correct anatomical position).
Can I really break my ankle and not know it?
It may sound strange, but the answer is a resounding, Yes!
While it seems like a broken bone is something you should be able to detect, the truth is that other ankle injuries share similar symptoms. It can be especially challenging to discern between ankle sprains and ankle stress fractures or other minor ankle fractures.
In addition, patients with certain medical conditions, including diabetes, vascular diseases, immune deficiency, and alcoholism, may experience a loss of sensation in their feet and ankles. These conditions and others may minimize the pain typically associated with ankle fractures, making it difficult to realize when the joint is broken.
The only way to know for sure if it’s broken is by scheduling an appointment with a trained medical provider, like the team at Arlington/Mansfield Foot & Ankle Centers. To understand the nature of your injury, you’ll need to undergo a physical examination and get digital images taken using X-ray and/or CT scans or MRIs.
There are some signs to look out for, however, that indicate your ankle may be fractured, including:
- Not being able to bear weight (either immediately following an injury or in the days after an injury takes place)
- Moderate-to-severe pain
- Ankle tenderness
- Obvious swelling and bruising
- Deformity of the ankle joint
If you think your ankle might be broken, stay off it! Using your ankle after breaking it can make the condition worse and even lead to long-term complications. While you wait for your appointment, ice your ankle and keep it elevated to reduce swelling and pain.
For help with a broken ankle or other ankle injuries, contact the experts at Arlington/Mansfield Foot & Ankle Centers. Schedule an exam by calling the office location nearest you, or request an appointment using our online booking tool now.