Foot & Ankle Fractures
Understanding Foot and Ankle Fractures
Bones are reasonably strong and actually do a rather remarkable job of withstanding the physical forces we place upon them, but they are not infallible. Lower limb fractures happen as the result of physical forces, either from a single traumatic event (an acute injury) or in response to an accumulation of forces over time (a chronic injury). There are several different types of bone fractures, including:
- Comminuted fracture. Sometimes bones break into two pieces, but a comminuted fracture is a matter of bone shattering into three or more pieces.
- Open, compound fracture. This is a dangerous fracture, as the skin has been pierced by a broken bone and this exposes internal tissues to the possibility of contamination and infection. If you sustain this type of broken bone, seek immediate medical care.
- Stable fracture. Otherwise known as a simple fracture, this can be considered an ideal break, one wherein the broken ends line up correctly and will heal in a normal fashion. It is important, though, to immobilize the affected area so a shift does not occur to either end.
- Stress fracture. In this type of fracture, the affected bone develops a hairline, surface-level crack over time and in response to repetitive physical forces. When bone is not given enough time to replenish damaged tissue between bouts of high-impact physical activities (running, jumping), there is a high risk of stress fractures.
Bone Fracture Treatment
The body has an impressive ability to repair broken bone tissue. This repair takes place in three stages:
- Inflammation – This stage starts as soon as the fracture has been sustained and is necessary for providing a supply of blood to the injured area. The initial framework for the ultimate healing emerges as the blood begins to clot.
- Bone production – The second stage is where the clotted blood is replaced by fibrous tissues and cartilage, which are, in turn, replaced over time by solid bone tissue.
- Bone remodeling – In this final stage, the bone tissue really develops. It becomes dense and compact, and normal circulation is restored.
Various factors dictate exactly how long the entire healing process will take, and when you can return to running or other physical activities. Generally, though, it takes approximately 6 to 8 weeks for a broken bone to heal to a significant degree. Children’s bones will often heal quicker than adult bones do.
Treatment for a broken bone depends, naturally, on the kind of fracture sustained and the severity of the injury. In the case of a simple, stable fracture, our goal is to immobilize the area and allow the broken bone to heal in a normal manner. Options for keeping the affected bone(s) in place include buddy-taping, bracing, and casting. A second goal we have for treatment is to relieve any painful symptoms. Medication and icing are two common components of fracture care.
In some cases, surgery is necessary. This typically entails using plates and screws to hold broken pieces in place while the body mends the damaged bone. Depending on the procedure, we may need to reopen the incision later to remove the plates or screws.
Stress Fracture Prevention
It is difficult to list specific measures to prevent an acute injury fracture, but there are things you can do to reduce your risk of sustaining a stress fracture. These include:
- Cross-train. Running is a great form of exercise, but add in some low-impact activities to prevent injury and contribute to greater overall physical wellness.
- Ease into activity. We know that it can be tempting to jump into a new physical activity in hopes of seeing quick results, but keep in mind that physical changes (weight loss, muscle toning) take time. Start any workout program at a low level and then gradually build it up over time.
- Eat well. A diet rich in calcium, vitamins D and K2, and magnesium will give your bones the nutrients they need to stay strong. This will allow them to better absorb forces and replenish damaged tissue.
- Strengthen your muscles. Resistance activities will build up your muscles and make them better able to help absorb some of the force load from the bones in your lower limbs.
- Wear the right shoes. This cannot be emphasized enough, especially because proper footwear is necessary for avoiding many common foot and ankle issues. Choose models that fit your feet well and are appropriate for the activity you perform.
For more information on ankle and foot fractures, or to request an appointment for treatment of any foot or ankle issue, contact Anderson Foot & Ankle Clinic by filling out our online form or calling our Salt Lake City office at (801) 269-9939.