Treatment of Ankle Fractures

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.”

Lateral Malleolus Fracture

A lateral malleolus fracture is a fracture of the fibula. There are different levels at which that the fibula can be fractured. The level of the fracture may direct the treatment.

Nonsurgical Treatment

You may not require surgery if your ankle is stable, meaning the broken bone is not out of place or just barely out of place. A stress x-ray may be done to see if the ankle is stable. The type of treatment required may also be based on where the bone is broken. Several different methods are used for protecting the fracture while it heals. ranging from a high-top tennis shoe to a short leg cast. Some physicians let patients put weight on their leg right away, while others have them wait for 6 weeks. You will see your physician regularly to repeat your ankle x-rays to make sure the fragments of your fracture have not moved out of place during the healing process.

Surgical Treatment

If the fracture is out of place or your ankle is unstable, your fracture may be treated with surgery. During this type of procedure, the bone fragments are first repositioned (reduced) into their normal alignment. They are held together with special screws and metal plates attached to the outer surface of the bone. In some cases, a screw or rod inside the bone may be used to keep the bone fragments together while they heal.

Tendon Repair

Tendon repair is surgery done to treat a torn or otherwise damaged tendon. Tendons are the soft, band-like tissues that connect muscles to bone. When the muscles contract, the tendons pull the bones and cause the joints to move. When tendon damage occurs, movement may be seriously limited. The damaged area may feel weak and/or painful. Tendon repair surgery may be helpful for people who have tendon injuries that are making it difficult for them to move a joint or are very painful.

Meniscal Repair

A meniscus tear is a common injury to the cartilage that stabilizes and cushions the knee joint. The type of the tear camera.gif can determine whether your tear can be repaired. Radial tears sometimes can be repaired, depending on where they are located. Horizontal, flap, long-standing, and degenerative tears-those caused by years of wear and tear-generally cannot be repaired.

Your doctor will likely suggest the treatment that he or she thinks will work best for you based on the zone where the tear is camera.gif, the pattern of the tear, and how big it is. Your age, your health, and your activity level may also affect your treatment options. In some cases, the surgeon makes the final decision during surgery, when he or she can see the how strong the meniscus is, where the tear is, and how big the tear is.

  • If you have a small tear at the outer edge of the meniscus (in what doctors call the red zone), you may want to try home treatment. These tears often heal with rest.
  • If you have a moderate to large tear at the outer edge of the meniscus (red zone), you may want to think about surgery. These kinds of tears tend to heal well after surgery.
  • If you have a tear that spreads from the red zone into the inner two-thirds of the meniscus (called the white zone), your decision is harder. Surgery to repair these kinds of tears may not work.
  • If you have a tear in the white zone of the meniscus, repair surgery usually isn’t done, because the meniscus may not heal. But partial meniscectomy may be done if torn pieces of meniscus are causing pain and swelling.

Treatment of Knee Fractures

A patellar fracture is a break in the patella, or kneecap, the small bone that sits at the front of your knee. Because the patella acts as a shield for your knee joint, it is vulnerable to fracture if you fall directly onto your knee or hit it against the dashboard in a vehicle collision. A patellar fracture is a serious injury that can make it difficult or even impossible to straighten your knee or walk.

Nonsurgical Treatment

If the pieces of bone are not out of place (displaced), you may not need surgery. Your doctor may apply a cast or splint to keep your knee straight and help prevent motion in your leg. This will keep the broken ends of bone in proper position while they heal. Depending upon your specific fracture, you may be allowed to bear weight on your leg while wearing a cast or brace. With some fractures, however, weight bearing is not allowed for 6 to 8 weeks. Your doctor will talk with you about restrictions on weight bearing.

Surgical Treatment

If the pieces of bone are out of place (displaced), you will most likely need surgery. Fractured patellar bones that are not close together often have difficulty healing or may not heal. The thigh muscles that attach to the top of the patella are very strong and can pull the broken pieces out of place during healing.