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How Do You Know if You Have a Broken Ankle?

written by: Laura Latzko • edited by: dianahardin • updated: 2/28/2011

Broken ankles often occur when you put pressure on your ankle when you misstep or fall. Pain, tenderness and swelling are all signs of a broken ankle. How do you know if you have a broken ankle and not just a sprain? Read on to learn more.

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    Fractures

    A broken ankle occurs when one or more of the bones within your ankle fracture. The bones within your ankle include the fibula, the tibia and the talus. When one or more of these bones breaks, you likely will have a difficult time walking. If you have a severe break, you will not be able to walk at all.

    People often develop broken ankles when they fall, drop an object on their feet, take a wrong step or get into a car accident. It is important for people to seek medical treatment if they think they have a broken ankle because they could develop arthritis, bone infections or blood vessels problems if their condition is not treated. Some people with broken ankles develop compartment syndrome, a condition that affects the muscles and can cause severe problems with the body’s blood flow.

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    Symptoms

    How do you know if you have a broken ankle instead of another condition, such as a sprained ankle? A sprained ankle occurs when the ligaments within the ankle move into an abnormal position and tear. An ankle sprain often causes fibers in the ankle to become injured as well.

    It is sometimes difficult to tell whether you have a sprained or broken ankle because they have some of the same symptoms, such as feelings of tenderness and swelling within the ankle. When you develop a sprained ankle, you often walk with an unstable gait. With a broken ankle, you usually cannot put much or any weight on your ankle. You may experience pain if you develop a strained ankle, but a broken ankle causes you to feel intense pain that does not let up. The pain usually comes on right after you hurt your ankle.

    If you have a severe break in your ankle, you may be able to see where the bones are broken when you look at your ankle. Portions of the broken bones may be exposed when you have a broken ankle. Other symptoms of a broken ankle include bruising on the ankle and painful sensations when you put pressure on your ankle or someone touches it.

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    Care and Treatment

    If you think you have a broken ankle, you should take precautions not to worsen your condition before you can get treatment. You could cause the pain in your ankle to become more severe if you put additional pressure on it while you are in the process of getting medical treatment. Try to get to a doctor’s office or hospital as soon as possible.

    Stay off your ankle before you get in to see a doctor. Putting a splint on your ankle helps to keep it still until you can get medical treatment. During the ride to the hospital, you could also put ice on your injured ankle and elevate it to prevent putting pressure on it.

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    Diagnosis

    Your doctor can give you a definitive answer on whether you have a broken ankle. When you go to a doctor for treatment for an ankle injury, your physician will usually take an x-ray to find out if the bones within your ankle are broken. If your doctor finds out that you have a broken ankle, will either put the ankle in a cast or recommend surgery to insert pins and set the bones.

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    References

    “Foot, Ankle and Podiatry Conditions and Treatments,” University of Connecticut Health Center, http://nemsi.uchc.edu/clinical_services/orthopaedic/footankle/broken_ankle.html

    “Broken Ankle/Broken Foot,” Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/broken-ankle/DS00951

    “Broken Ankle Treatment,” Brokenankle.org, http://www.brokenankle.org/treatment.php

    “Ankle Fractures,” American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00391

    “Broken Ankle/Ankle Fracture,” Sports Injury Clinic, http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/cybertherapist/front/ankle/broken_ankle.php

    “Broken Ankle,” Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Center, http://www.footankledc.com/medical-library/broken-ankle/

    “Broken Ankle/Broken Foot,” OhioHealth Online, http://www.ohiohealth.com/bodymayo.cfm?id=6&action=detail&ref=3799

    “Compartment Syndrome,” American Academy of Orthopeadic Surgeons, http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00204

    “Sprained Ankle,” American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00150

    “X-Ray,” U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, X-Ray

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003337.htm

    “CT Scan,” Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ct-scan/MY00309