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Broken ankles: How your life is impacted

When you break your ankle, the reality is that life has to stop for a moment. You won't be able to walk easily, and the pain is significant.

In car crashes, broken ankles and feet occur for a number of reasons from crushing injuries to having them go through the windshield (which is why you should never place your feet on the dashboard). Broken bones in the feet and ankles are life-changing, some for much longer than you'd expect.

What are the immediate symptoms of broken ankles?

Typically, there is immediate pain and throbbing in the area. Then, pain occurs, which will get worse with activity. You may notice bruising, a deformity, swelling and tenderness. It's normal to have no ability to place weight on the leg where the ankle has been injured.

What can you expect if you break your ankle in a car crash?

Many of the crushing injuries that occur in car crashes lead to a need for surgery. Crushing injuries may shatter bones, meaning that surgeons have to repair the bone manually. They may need to use metal rods or screws to hold the bones in place. A cast may not be used initially due to swelling, but over time and once it decreases, a cast may be placed around the broken ankle to encourage stability while it heals.

Are there potential complications from broken ankles?

Yes, there are. Some common complications include:

  • Compartment syndrome
    • This is when the broken bone causes pain, swelling and occasionally disability in the affected leg.
  • Bone infection
    • This can occur with open fractures or following surgery if the site is exposed to bacteria.
  • Blood vessel and nerve damage
    • Trauma can result in tearing and injury to the local blood vessels and nerves. This may lead to numbness and a lack of blood flow.
  • Arthritis
    • Arthritis is common when the fracture extends into the joint. This may not occur until many years later.

With so many complications possible, it's necessary for those who may have broken bones to seek medical help immediately. If you do not receive treatment right away, there is a potential for the condition to worsen, making it more likely to require surgery, antibiotics and other treatments. With early treatment, it's easier to manage a broken bone and receive the care you need to give you the best chance of using this ankle again in the future.

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