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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Broken ankle (fractured ankle)

Whatīanga raparapa tāwhatiwhati

The bones of the ankle are the fibula and tibia in your calf, the lateral and medial malleolus in your ankle, and the talus and calcaneus in your footYour ankle joint is made up of three bones. The two bones of your lower leg (called the tibia and fibula) fit over your talus bone.

The most common place for the ankle to break (or fracture) is at the ends of your tibia (medial malleolus) and fibula (lateral malleolus). This often happens because you've rolled your ankle by stepping off a path or while playing sport.

Breaks in the talus tend to be caused by a blow to the base of your foot. For example, in a car accident or a fall from a height onto a hard surface.

Diagnosing a broken ankle

Your doctor, physiotherapist or podiatrist will diagnose your injury by listening to your explanation of what happened, examining your ankle and looking at an X-ray of your ankle. You might need another scan, such as a CT or MRI scan if the X-rays aren't clear.

Treating a broken ankle

There are different ways to treat a broken ankle depending on where the bones are broken and what sort of break it is.

If the break is in a good position, you may be put into a plaster cast or moonboot to support your ankle and stop the bones from moving while they heal.

If the bones aren't in a good position or are unstable, you may need an operation to put them in the right position and fix them in place. The surgeon may need to use a metal rod or a plate and screws to hold your bones in place.

Your orthopaedic surgeon will talk with you about your options and what they plan to do. Ask them questions if you want more information.

If your ankle is very swollen, you may need to wait for a few days before surgery because the tight skin can make it difficult for wounds to heal. During this time, you'll be put into a plaster backslab, which is a half cast around the back of your leg, to make you more comfortable. You'll be asked to keep your leg raised up on pillows.

After surgery, you may have a plaster cast or backslab fitted to support your ankle and stop the bones from moving.

Self-care with a broken ankle

If you have a plaster cast, you'll need to take care of it correctly. See Care of your cast.

Your doctor will tell you how much weight you can put on your leg.

Elevate your leg when you're resting to help reduce any swelling. You may feel some numbness or tingling in your leg or foot, but this will eventually get better.

You should try to get moving as soon as possible. This helps to prevent problems that can happen with long periods of bed rest. These can include deep vein thrombosis, infections and muscle weakness.

If you're given a piece of Tubigrip (tubular bandage) to wear after your cast is removed, you should wear it like a sock from knee to toes, with no wrinkles. Only wear it in the daytime. Do not wear it in bed at night.

If your skin is excessively dry when your cast is removed, soak your leg in warm soapy water and dry it well, then use some hand cream.

Getting help with a broken ankle

If you've been admitted to hospital, a physiotherapist or occupational therapist may assess what help you'll need at home and arrange it for you. Your physiotherapist will teach you how to walk with a walking frame or crutches without putting too much weight on your leg.

If you have not been admitted to hospital or have left hospital and need help with a walking frame or crutches, talk to your general practice team.

ACC may be able to provide help while you aren't fit for work, such as home help or taxis to appointment as well as work compensation payments.

To help you regain your normal movement and strength, a physiotherapist will advise you on exercises you should do and will help you return to your normal activities and sports. Your treatment may include active range of motion, strengthening and balance exercises as well as mobilisations.

A podiatrist may be able to provide ACC-funded orthotics to help stabilise your foot and ankle during your recovery and can discuss the best footwear choices to help your rehabilitation.

Written by director of nursing, Orthopaedic Services, Canterbury DHB. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2022.


See also:

Broken bones first aid

Communication cards in multiple languages

Living with an injury

Page reference: 132233

Review key: HIAAF-225274