When to Seek Medical Care
When you have injured an ankle, there several things you can look for to determine whether or not you need to see your doctor or go to an emergency department. The following situations warrant seeing your doctor as soon as possible:
- You cannot bear weight on the ankle.
- Your pain remains intolerable despite using over-the-counter pain medications.
- Home care fails to reduce your pain.
If you are unable to see your doctor and have any of the signs or symptoms of an ankle fracture, you should go to an emergency department as soon as possible.
The following signs and symptoms call for immediate care at an emergency department:
- Gross deformity of the ankle bones
- Bones visible outside your skin
- Intolerable pain despite over-the-counter pain medications
- Inability to move your toes
- Inability to move your ankle at all
- Ankle numbness or partial numbness
- Cold or blue foot
Exams and Tests
When a doctor evaluates your ankle, the main task is to determine if you have fractured a bone or if the joint has been damaged sufficiently to have become unstable. Joint instability often suggests multiple fractures, a fracture with a ligament injury, or sometimes ligament injury alone.
- The doctor will seek a history of the injury and will ask the following. These questions are important because different mechanisms of injury are associated with different fracture patterns.
- Where does it hurt now?
- How long ago did your injury happen?
- Does your knee, shin, or foot hurt also?
- How did the injury happen?
- Did your ankle turn in or out?
- Did you hear a crack or a pop?
- Were you able to walk immediately after the injury?
- Can you walk now?
- Do you have any new numbness or tingling in your leg, ankle, or foot?
- Have you had previous ankle fractures, sprains, or surgeries?
- The doctor will perform a physical exam, looking at or for the following:
- Evidence of bruising, abrasions, or cuts
- Swelling, bleeding, and tissue damage
- Pain, deformities, and the grinding or movement of broken bones of the knee, shin, ankle, and foot
- Pain, excess looseness of a joint, or complete tear in ligaments
- Fluid in the joint and joint stability
- Pulse and evidence of injured blood vessels
- Sensation and movement in both your ankle and foot
If the doctor suspects a broken bone, he or she will ask for ankle X-rays. The doctor may also ask for X-rays of your knee, shin, or foot, depending on where the pain is.
Ankle Fracture Treatment Self-Care at Home
If you suspect a fracture, you should call your doctor or go to a hospital's emergency department immediately. You can do the following until you can get to a hospital or doctor's office:
- Stay off the injured ankle so you do not injure it further.
- Keep the ankle elevated to help decrease swelling and pain.
- Apply cold packs to the injured area to decrease swelling and pain. Do not apply ice directly. Cold packs are effective for the first 12-24 hours.
Ibuprofen (Advil, , Motrin) may be ideal for ankle injuries because it acts as both a pain medicine and a medicine to keep inflammation down. But check with your doctor first if you have any medical problems or take any other medicines or supplements.