What Is An Ankle Fracture?

There are many ways to break an ankle. Twisting it while playing football, missing the bottom step, and falling while helping a friend move are all common causes of ankle fractures.

Of course, those accidents can also cause an ankle sprain. You need a radiograph to determine whether your injury is a sprain or fracture.

The orthopedic surgeons at Southwest Orthopedic Group can take an in-office x-ray and determine if you have an ankle fracture.

But it gets more complicated:

The ankle is made up of three bones, the tibia (roof and inside), the fibula (outside), and the talus (the floor). There are also ligaments that connect the tibia and fibula, called the syndesmosis. And there are more ligaments on the inside of the ankle (deltoid ligament). All these bones and ligaments can be injured in a fall or other accident.

Read on for information on the types of ankle fractures – and whether or not they need surgery.


What causes an ankle fracture?

Ankle fractures typically occur after a twisting injury to the ankle. Some are caused by rolling your ankle inwards and twisting your ankle. Others are caused by rolling your ankle outward.


Can you walk after an ankle fracture?

Some patients can walk after an ankle fracture. Walking is not a reliable test to determine if you have an ankle fracture or not. Radiographs (x-rays) are required to diagnose an ankle fracture.


What is a compound ankle fracture?

A compound ankle fracture, also known as an open ankle fracture, is when the bones come out of the skin. These are usually obvious injuries, and they require immediate treatment by the emergency department to minimize the risk of infection and stabilize the bone. If you have an open/compound ankle fracture, seek care immediately!


What is an ankle fracture, dislocation?

An ankle fracture, dislocation is a more complicated ankle fracture. This injury occurs when your ankle breaks, typically in multiple locations, and the joint dislocates (goes out of place). The ankle dislocation needs to be realigned – which is an urgent issue that requires immediate evaluation by the emergency room.  Sometimes, these need acute surgery to temporarily stabilize the ankle. If you think you have an ankle fracture, dislocation, go to the emergency room immediately.


Will an ankle fracture heal itself? When does an ankle fracture need surgery?

There are many types of ankle fractures. In general, if an ankle is ‘stable,’ it can be treated without surgery. If an ankle is ‘unstable,’ it may need surgery. Your orthopedic surgeon can evaluate your x-rays to determine if you have a stable vs an unstable fracture. Sometimes, additional imaging, such as a stress radiograph or CT scan, can be obtained to further evaluate the stability of the fracture.


Do I need a CT scan or MRI after an ankle fracture?

CT scans, which are like 3D x-rays, are commonly ordered if you are considering surgery for an ankle fracture. Scans help identify the fractured pieces, their locations, and displacement. MRIs evaluate soft tissues, and are rarely ordered after ankle fractures, but they can be useful in certain types of ankle fractures, especially when the ligaments need to be evaluated.


The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) has more information about ankle fractures at FootCareMD.


For more questions or to set up an evaluation, contact Dr. Stautberg’s office at 281-977-4870.

Eugene Stautberg, MD

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