A broken ankle is also known as an ankle "fracture." This means that one or more of the bones that make up the ankle joint are broken. A fractured ankle can range from a simple break in one bone, which may not stop you from walking, to several fractures, which forces your ankle out of place and may require that you not put weight on it for a few months.
Simply put, the more bones that are broken, the more unstable the ankle becomes. There may be ligaments damaged as well. The ligaments of the ankle hold the ankle bones and joint in position.
Broken ankles affect people of all ages. During the past 30 to 40 years, doctors have noted an increase in the number and severity of broken ankles, due in part to an active, older population of "baby boomers."
Three bones make up the ankle joint:
- Tibia - shinbone
- Fibula - smaller bone of the lower leg
- Talus - a small bone that sits between the heel bone (calcaneus) and the tibia and fibula
The tibia and fibula have specific parts that make up the ankle:
- Medial malleolus - inside part of the tibia
- Posterior malleolus - back part of the tibia
- Lateral malleolus - end of the fibula
Doctors classify ankle fractures according to the area of bone that is broken. For example, a fracture at the end of the fibula is called a lateral malleolus fracture, or if both the tibia and fibula are broken, it is called a bimalleolar fracture.
Two joints are involved in ankle fractures:
- Ankle joint - where the tibia, fibula, and talus meet
- Syndesmosis joint - the joint between the tibia and fibula, which is held together by ligaments
Multiple ligaments help make the ankle joint stable.
- Twisting or rotating your ankle
- Rolling your ankle
- Tripping or falling
- Impact during a car accident
Because a severe ankle sprain can feel the same as a broken ankle, every ankle injury should be evaluated by a physician.
Common symptoms for a broken ankle include:
- Immediate and severe pain
- Tender to touch
- Cannot put any weight on the injured foot
- Deformity ("out of place"), particularly if the ankle joint is dislocated as well