Foot and Ankle Fracture and Dislocation Treatment

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What is foot and ankle fracture and dislocation treatment

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Treatment for a broken or dislocated ankle or foot includes both conservative techniques and surgical procedures to stabilize and heal the injured foot or ankle.

Your foot has 26 bones and 33 joints, and your ankle joint has three bones. Ankle fractures and dislocations can be simple or complex. Simple ones involve just one bone, while complex ones affect multiple bones.

Foot and ankle fracture and dislocation treatment depends on the location and complexity of the injury.

Types of treatment

Treatments include:

  • Ice

  • Not bearing weight on the injured leg

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers

  • Rest

  • Splints, casts or boots

Fortunately, many foot and ankle fractures heal without surgery. Surgery may be necessary when a foot or ankle bone is dislocated out of place or part of a bone has broken off.

Surgery may include:

  • Bone grafting for new bone growth to heal the fracture

  • Fusing bones together so they heal as one piece

  • Repositioning bones that are out of place and fixing them in place with screws, plates or wires. Reduction is the medical term for putting bones back in place. Doctors can accomplish reductions through a skin incision—open reduction—or by repositioning large bone pieces from the outside—closed reduction. Fixations can be internal with a large incision or percutaneous (through the skin) with many smaller incisions.

Why is foot and ankle fracture and dislocation treatment necessary?

Your doctor may recommend treating the following foot and ankle fractures or dislocations:

  • Stress fractures, which are small cracks in a bone

  • Simple fractures or dislocations involving one bone

  • Complex fractures or dislocations involving multiple bones 

It is important to have a professional medical evaluation for any type of foot or ankle injury. If there is a fracture or dislocation, a doctor’s exam and treatment will help ensure the fracture or dislocation heals properly and reduces your risk of disability. 

What types of providers treat foot and ankle fractures and dislocations?

The following types of doctors treat foot and ankle fractures and dislocations:

  • Orthopedic surgeons specialize in the medical and surgical treatment of diseases and conditions of the bones and connective tissues. Some orthopedic surgeons subspecialize in foot and ankle surgery.

  • Podiatric surgeons specialize in the surgical treatment of diseases and conditions of the foot and ankle.

  • Podiatrists specialize in treating conditions of the foot, ankle, and lower leg.

How are foot and ankle fractures and dislocations treated?

Treatment for foot and ankle injuries occurs in a doctor’s office, clinic or hospital—the setting depends on the seriousness of the injury. Treating a foot or ankle fracture or dislocation generally includes these steps:

  1. Your doctor will want to know how you injured your foot or ankle. A description of the incident can tell your doctor a lot about the type of injury you have.

  2. Your doctor will examine your foot and ankle and will likely order tests. An X-ray is the most common test, but your doctor may also order a CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan. MRIs can be useful to find stress fractures or soft tissue damage.

  3. For minor foot and ankle fractures and dislocations, your doctor may give you instructions for RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) and anti-inflammatory medicines.

  4. Your doctor may fit you with a splint, boot or cast.

  5. If your fracture caused your bones to be out of place, your doctor may need to set, or “reduce,” the fracture by aligning the bone fragments. In some cases, setting the fracture can be performed in the clinic, but severe fractures may require surgery. To ensure proper healing, you may need to wear a cast, splint or boot to hold the bones in your foot or ankle in the correct position.

  6. Your doctor will let you know whether you can put weight on your foot and whether you need to use crutches when walking.

Will I feel pain?

Foot and ankle fracture and dislocation treatments can be painful. Your care team will give you pain medication to keep you comfortable. You may also receive a sedative, depending on your condition and treatment. Tell your doctor or a member of your healthcare team if you are uncomfortable.

You will receive either a general or regional anesthetic if you need surgery.

What are the risks and potential complications of treatments for foot and ankle fractures and dislocations?

Complications after fracture and dislocation treatment are not common, but any medical procedure involves some level of risk and potential complications. Complications can develop during the procedure or your recovery, and become serious in some cases.

Risks and potential complications may include:

  • Decreased athletic performance

  • Deformity

  • Difficulty walking

  • Disability

  • Infection, bleeding, and anesthesia reactions in the case of surgery

Reducing your risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of certain complications by:

  • Following activity and lifestyle restrictions and recommendations during recovery

  • Informing your doctor or radiologist if you are nursing or if there is any possibility of pregnancy

  • Notifying your doctor immediately of any concerns, such as bleeding, fever, or increase in pain

  • Taking your medications exactly as directed

  • Telling your care team if you have allergies

How do I prepare for foot and ankle fracture and dislocation treatment?

The steps you take before your procedure can improve your comfort and outcome. You can prepare for treatment by:

  • Answering all questions about your medical history, allergies, and medications. This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, herbal treatments, and vitamins. It is a good idea to always carry a current list of your medical conditions, medications, and allergies.

  • Taking or stopping medications exactly as directed. For surgery, this may include not taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and blood thinners. 

Questions to ask your doctor

When you are in pain or stressed about making treatment decisions, it can be difficult to think or know what to ask your doctor. Start with these questions:

  • Why do I need this particular treatment? Are there any other options for diagnosing or treating my condition?

  • Do the benefits of the treatment, such as surgical reduction, outweigh the risks of not using this method of treatment?

  • How often do you encounter complications from the treatment?

  • How long will the procedure take? When can I go home?

  • What kind of restrictions will I have after the procedure? When can I expect to return to work and other activities?

  • What kind of assistance will I need at home? Will I need a ride home?

  • What medication plan should I follow before and after the procedure?

  • How will you treat my pain?

  • When should I follow up with you?

  • How should I contact you? Ask for numbers to call during and after regular hours.

  • What other tests or treatments might I need?

What can I expect after foot and ankle fracture and dislocation treatment?

Knowing what to expect after treatment can help you get back to your everyday life as soon as possible.

How will I feel after treatment?

You may have pain and discomfort as you recover from the treatment, but your care team will give you pain medicine. You might feel a little drowsy if you had a sedative. Tell a member of your care team if your pain is not well controlled by your medication because it can be a sign of a complication.

When can I go home?

For minor foot and ankle fractures and dislocations, you should be able to go home immediately after the procedure. For surgery, you may need to stay in the hospital. Your length of stay depends on your injury and the specific surgery.

Some treatments require more downtime than others. You may need rehabilitation to strengthen the injured area and make sure you are moving your foot and ankle safely as you recover. Other injuries just need time and rest.

Recovery after an injury and its treatment is a gradual process. Your age, your general health, and the type of fracture or dislocation factor into your recovery time. It will probably be about six weeks before you're feeling back to normal. It may take longer if your injury involves soft tissue damage, such as sprained or torn ligaments and tendons. Returning to sports and other vigorous activities can take four months or more. Full recovery can take several months up to a year.

Remember not to push yourself during recovery. Doing too much too fast can set your recovery back. Follow your doctor’s or physical therapist’s instructions for bearing weight and using supports.

When should I call my doctor?

It’s important to keep your follow-up appointments after treatment. Contact your doctor if you have any concerns between appointments. Call your doctor right away or seek immediate medical care if you have:

  • Bleeding

  • Numbness, marked swelling or discoloration of the lower extremity

  • Fever

  • Pain that is not controlled by your pain medication
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Apr 4
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Adult Foot Health. American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. http://www.aofas.org/footcaremd/overview/Pages/Adult-Foot-Health.aspx
  2. Ankle Fractures (Broken Ankle). American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00391
  3. Calcaneus (Heel Bone) Fractures. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00524
  4. Foot and Ankle. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/menus/foot.cfm
  5. Lisfranc (Midfoot) Injury. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00162
  6. Pilon Fractures of the Ankle. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00527
  7. Stress Fractures of the Foot and Ankle. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00379
  8. Toe and Forefoot Fractures. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00165
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