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Treatment. Broken ankle/broken foot

By Editorial Team (Y)
November 23, 2021
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Broken ankle/broken foot diagnosis

The doctor will check for specific sites of tenderness in your ankle and foot when you seek medical attention following an injury in which a fracture of the foot or ankle is suspected. Precisely location of the pain can help the doctor determine its cause. In addition, your foot may be moved around into different positions to check its range of motion. You may also be asked to walk a few steps so your gait can be assessed in order to check broken ankle or broken foot diagnosis.

Imaging tests

Not all injuries of the ankle and foot need imaging studies. However, in some situations, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following:

  • X-rays: Most of the time, foot and ankle fractures can be seen on an X-ray. X-rays may need to be taken from different angles. If a stress fracture has occurred, it may not be visible on X-ray until it starts to heal. 
  • Bone Scan: During a bone scan, radioactive material is injected into one of the patient’s veins. This material tends to collect in any damaged bones and shows up as bright areas on the image produced by the scan. 
  • Computerized tomography (CT) Scan: A CT scan takes many different angled X-rays and then combines them to produce cross-section images of the body’s internal structures. These imaging studies can provide the doctor with more information about the soft tissues around the bone to help determine the appropriate treatment for the injury. 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) Scan: MRI scans use a magnetic field and radio waves to produce highly detailed pictures of the structures that support the ankle and foot. An MRI can reveal breaks that are not visible on X-rays. Typically, these more advanced studies are used in those people who make a living by actively being on their feet, such as athletes. 

Treatment of broken ankle or broken foot 

The treatment for a broken foot or broken ankle varies, depending on what bone or bones have been fractured and how severe the injury is.

Medications

Some typical over-the-counter pain relievers recommended for the pain of a broken foot or a broken ankle include ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen.

Therapy

After the fracture has healed, the muscles and ligaments in the foot and ankle remain stiff. As a result, physical therapy is often recommended to help patients improve their muscle strength and their flexibility.

Non-surgical and surgical procedures for a broken ankle and broken foot treatment

  • Reduction: If the ends of the bone that has broken are not lined up correctly, the fracture is known as a “displaced fracture.” In order to realign the two ends so proper healing can occur, the doctor may have to manipulate the ends back into place. This is called a reduction. Some people are given general anesthesia prior to this procedure, and other times this can be done with the use of a sedative or muscle relaxant. 
  • Immobilization: In order to treat a broken ankle or broken foot, a fractured bone must be kept still so the broken ends can join back together. Most of the time, this immobilization is accomplished by casting. Minor breaks in the bones of the foot may be immobilized in a brace or a boot. If a toe is broken, it is often taped to the toe next to it, with a piece of gauze placed between the two toes. 
  • Surgery: Sometimes, orthopedic surgery of the broken ankle or broken foot is required, along with the insertion of screws, pins, or plates to hold the bones in correct alignment while they heal. The surgical material may need to be removed after the break has healed if it causes complications such as pain or is prominent.

Prevention of broken ankle and broken foot 

  • Wear the right shoes: If you are going to walk on rough ground, wear hiking shoes. If you work in construction, wear shoes with steel toes. If you’re an athlete, choose the appropriate shoes for your activity. 
  • Start slow: This rule applies to each workout session as well as to when beginning a new fitness routine.
  • Cross-train: Alternating your workout activities can help prevent stress fractures. Alternate between weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing activities.
  • Eat healthy to build bone strength: Milk, cheese, and yogurt are rich in calcium and are good for your bones. A vitamin D supplement may also be beneficial.
  • Use adequate lights: Install night lights. Don’t suffer a broken toe because you tripped in the dark.
  • De-clutter your home: Keep pathways and stairwells clear to avoid tripping and falling. 
  • Strengthen your ankles: Ask your doctor or physical therapist for specific exercises to help strengthen your ankle muscles if you are especially prone to twisted ankles. 

Outcome & Complications

Complications of a broken foot or broken ankle can include the following:

  • Arthritis: Breaks that affect the ankle joint or joints of the foot can lead to arthritis later. This may occur many years after an injury. If you experience foot or ankle pain years after a fracture, talk to your doctor.
  • Osteomyelitis (bone infection): If the end of a broken bone pierces through the skin, you are more likely to develop an infection in the bone due to exposure to bacteria.
  • Compartment syndrome:  This condition causes swelling and pain and can sometimes lead to a lack of function in the muscles that have been affected by a fracture of the legs or arms. This complication usually occurs in severe injuries involving a great amount of force, such as motor vehicle accidents.
  • Nerve or blood vessel damage: Injury to a bone of the ankle or foot can also cause damage to the blood vessels and nerves. If blood flow is interrupted, severe damage to the bone can result. Nerves can also be severely damaged. If you notice any problems with circulation, or if numbness occurs, seek medical attention immediately.

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