The Breakdown: What to Do for Foot and Ankle Fractures
Do you remember Vinko Bogataj?
The name might not be familiar, but the image of him might come to mind if we say, “The Agony of Defeat.”
That’s right: Mr. Bogataj was the ski jumper whose infamous wipeout was constantly played during the opening of ABC’s Wide World of Sports. (And if it still doesn’t ring a bell, you can view the ill-fated jump here.)
Bogataj was lucky enough to come away from his crash with only a mild concussion and a broken ankle, and was able to go back to jumping for some time after treatments.
You don’t have to be a ski jumper to have foot and ankle fractures be a risk in your life. You can develop stress fractures from running, have a simple fracture on the field, or crack your toe by stubbing it hard against the leg of your bed.
If a fracture does happen, however, your response to it can be a very important element in determining how well you recover, and whether there may be additional problems in the future.
Before we go into that, however, let’s have a brief rundown on different types of fractures that can affect the bones of the foot and ankle.
Types of Breaks – No Two Are the Same
Bones can fracture in different ways. Knowing those differences changes the methods of approach to treating them.
- Stress Fractures are hairline cracks that happen along the surface of the bone. These often happen because of repetitive stress and forces against the bone. Athletes who engage in high-impact activities and do not provide enough recovery time for their bones to rebuild and strengthen are at a high risk for this type of fracture.
- Stable Fractures are the ones you likely think of first. Also known as a “simple break,” the bone is broken into two clean pieces, but still lines up correctly and can often heal in a standard fashion.
- Comminuted Fractures are more complicated than stable fractures. The bone has “shattered” into three or more pieces and often takes more direct manipulation to set and heal correctly.
- Compound Fractures are the most dangerous, as the bone has broken through the skin and leaves exposed internal tissue. These fractures require immediate emergency care to reduce the risk of becoming contaminated or infected.
There are additional types of fractures in the realm of the foot and ankle, such as Lisfranc injuries and Jones’ fractures, but they may deserve their own blog posts.
What to Do About a Stress Fracture
It’s clear that fractures can differ in severity, but there are still some general best practices to follow if you suspect you have one.
Let’s get the least severe one out of the way first. Stress fractures often do not cause enough pain to keep you from doing the activities that are causing them. But if you have throbbing pain in your feet or ankles during or after activity, stop doing it for nowand contact us for an examination.
We know you likely don’t want to hear you might have to rest for a while, but continuing to exert physical force on a stress fracture will delay its healing at best and lead to larger cracks at worst. We can help you figure out a good plan for recovery that keeps you active but still able to heal.
What to Do About Other Fractures
The other forms of fractures we’ve discussed are much more likely to be showstoppers. Throbbing pain may immediately strike, along with swelling, tenderness, and difficulty in bearing white on the injured area.
You might even see a deformity in the area—something looking like it isn’t where it belongs. And if you see bone through your skin, well, like we said, get help immediately!
It is sometimes difficult to tell whether you have a broken bone or a really bad sprain. If you have trouble determining which you have, follow this simple rule of thumb:
Don’t guess. Stay off the injury and get it examined as soon as possible.
Even if your suspected broken bone is actually a severe sprain, you still need to make sure you are receiving proper care for it. Both a broken bone and a bad sprain can lead to chronic pain and problems later in life if they do not heal properly. New sprains or breaks may be more likely to happen, as can conditions such as arthritis.
First aid for a suspected fracture is stabilization and elevation of the area. Lying flat with the area propped up on several pillows can help reduce inflammation and pain. Ice or a cold compress wrapped in a small towel and applied to the injury can also help within the first few hours.
Do not wrap the area in anything so tightly that blood flow is restricted. Also, don’t try to walk on the injured foot (but we probably didn’t have to tell you that).
Depending on the type and severity of the fracture, treatment may go several ways.
For toes and many other simple breaks, we may have set and immobilize the area so it can heal normally. This may involve the use of buddy taping, splints, or casts.
If the fracture is more complicated or severe, surgery might be necessaryto reconstruct the bone and hold in in place with plates or screws so it can fully mend.
The Thrill of Victory
A typical broken bone takes 6-8 weeks to mend, but some cases may take more or less time. We will be with you every step of the way and help you return to your regular activities. This might involve some physical therapy to re-strengthen your bone and surrounding muscles and get them used to the bearing certain loads again.
Whether you had a spill on the slopes or a trip in the home, Anderson Foot & Ankle Clinic is here to assess your needs and get you back to normal. Call our Salt Lake City Office at (801) 269-9939 or fill out or online contact form!