What Are Foot and Ankle Fractures?
Fractures are broken bones. The ankles and feet bear weight and experience force with each of the thousands of steps most people take every day. The feet and ankles are susceptible to traumatic fractures, such as those from a fall or accident, and those from overuse, like stress fractures.
Foot and ankle fractures can be stable—where the two ends of the fracture line up—or unstable, where the fractured ends of the bone are displaced. Unstable fractures are usually more painful for the patient and more difficult to treat.
Symptoms of a foot or ankle fracture can include:
- Bruising at the injury site
- Deformity of the foot
- Difficulty walking or bearing weight
Foot and ankle fractures can be caused by many types of accidents, direct blows such as dropping something on the foot or even just stepping wrong or twisting the ankle. Causes of foot and ankle fractures can include:
- Car accidents
- Dropping something heavy on the foot
- Missteps and ankle twists
The doctor usually begins with a physical examination, moving the injured foot to check range of motion and the presence of symptoms.
Imaging tests are often helpful for diagnosing fractures. X-rays can show most fractures, though stress fractures don’t normally show up on an X-ray until the break begins to heal. Bone scans, computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can also help show fractures.
Stable fractures of the foot or ankle are usually treated nonsurgically. The injury will have to be immobilized with a cast, brace or boot until the bones have healed together.
Most unstable fractures require surgery. One surgical option is the open reduction with internal fixation (ORIF) procedure. Surgeons will make an incision to expose the broken bone, then line up the two ends of the fracture, a process known as reduction. The bone is then held in place with metal plates and screws while it heals.
Recovery time for foot and ankle fractures vary depending on what bones are broken, how many and the severity of the injury, but most fractures take at least six weeks to heal. Physical therapy may be necessary during recovery to strengthen muscles around the fracture and to return range of motion.
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