The ankle is where the ends of the 2 bones in the lower leg, called the tibia [TIH-bee-ah] (shin) and the fibula [FIB-yoo-lah] (outside leg) meet with the foot. The points where these 2 bones end is called malleoli [muh-lee-OH-lie]. Your ankle has 3 malleoli points—2 on the tibia and 1 on the fibula. An ankle fracture is when 1 or more of your malleoli are broken.
Because the ankle is heavily used, and holds a lot of the body’s weight, it is a common bone to break. Anything from severe accidents, such as falls, to minor trips or ankle twists can lead to an ankle fracture.
If the ankle fracture is severe enough, it may require surgery to fully heal. Doctors may recommend different types of ankle surgeries, depending on how the ankle has been injured, including:
- Open reduction is a surgery that opens the ankle and repositions bones so that they line up correctly.
- Internal fixation is a placing plates, rods, wires, nails, and/or screws into the fractured ankle.
No matter the type of ankle surgery, the main goal is rebuild and support the ankle so that it can return to a normal shape and function.
Once the ankle fully heals, post-surgery treatment, such as physical therapy, can help strengthen the ankle and return-to-normal movement.
As with any surgery, there can be risks with:
- The type of anesthesia [ann-ess-TEE-see-uh] used
- Skin problems
- Blood clots
- Nerve/blood vessel damage
Other risks and problems more specific to ankle fracture surgery might include:
- Ankle joint weakness
- Ankle joint stiffness
- The fracture not healing correctly and having to repeat the surgery
People with certain diseases (such as diabetes) or who have certain habits (such as smoking) may take a longer time to heal and may have an increased chance of infection.
Talk to your doctor to understand the risks of your procedure and how likely complications may be.
Ankle fracture surgery can help an ankle heal so that you can use it again.
You may have a series of doctor visits prior to your surgery. During these visits, a doctor will perform a physical exam, ask you about your family history, and take some x-rays. Your doctor may give you a brace to wear while you wait to have surgery.
Before surgery, tell your doctor about all the medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter medicines, supplements, inhalers, liquid medicines, and patches. . Also, let your doctor know the last time you ate or drank anything, and follow your doctor’s orders about when to stop eating or drinking before surgery.
You can also prepare for your surgery by talking about how your lifestyle may be affected. For example, your ankle surgery could affect your ability to drive, so you may need to arrange to have rides to work or other places you go regularly. You will also need to rest your ankle after surgery, so you will want to have a comfortable place where you can elevate your foot and rest.
You may want to also work out a plan with friends or family members to help with pets, children, or household duties to help you while you recover.
When you arrive at the hospital, you may need to fill out some paperwork. You will be taken to a room where you may be asked to change into a hospital gown.
Right before your surgery, but before you are given any anesthesia (a medicine that numbs pain and may make you go to sleep), you will be given an antibiotic to prevent infection.
You will then be given anesthesia. Once the anesthesia has fully kicked in, your surgery will begin. Here’s what will happen:
- Surgeons will make a series of small cuts on the side of the ankle to get to the broken bones.
- The surgeon will then re-position the broken bones and place implants in the ankle to help hold the bones in place.
- Once the ankle is fully supported, the surgeon will stitch the cuts to help the surgery wounds heal faster.
- The ankle will be placed in a splint to keep it from moving.
Depending on your medical history and how serious the surgery was, you may be able to go home right after the surgery, or your doctor may ask you to stay the night in the hospital.
It can take up to six weeks for the bones in the ankle to heal after surgery, but can take several months to a year of healing to regain full motion in the ankle. Before surgery, the doctor and surgeon will help you develop a plan for recovery. Make sure you talk to your doctor about when you can expect your ankle to be recovered.
Immediately after ankle surgery, the ankle will be put in a splint to keep it from moving. When the surgery wounds heal, you will return to your doctor so they can give you a cast or boot. Boots are used more often because they can be removed to help with wound checks, icing, and bathing.
Other follow-up requirements include:
- Keeping weight off of the ankle at first. If you put weight on your ankle too soon, it can make it harder for your ankle to heal, or it can mess up the placement of your bones, which may require another surgery to fix. You may need to use crutches or a scooter to help you move until you can put weight on your ankle.
- Slowly start putting weight back on the ankle. Once the bones heal, you may still be required to wear a cast or a boot to help support the ankle and prevent it from bending or moving to much while you keep healing.
- Start physical therapy. You will be given exercises to help you regain full movement of your ankle. Follow the doctor’s advice and do the exercises exactly as you are told to help get the best recovery.
- Keep all follow-up appointments. While you heal, you will have several doctor visits and x-rays to make sure you are healing properly. Going to all of these appointments ensures that your doctor can monitor your progress and correct any problems as soon as possible.
Be patient while you recover. It takes time for the ankle to heal. Some people do not get full motion of their ankle back for up to a year. You can help your ankle heal faster by eating well, getting enough sleep, and doing any physical therapy exactly as you are assigned.
An ankle fracture is when 1 of more of the 3 bones in the ankle breaks. Ankle fractures are very common and can be treated with surgery to reposition or reconnect the broken bones. After surgery, recovery time can be up to a year. The ankle can heal faster by eating well, getting enough sleep, and doing physical therapy as instructed.