Ankle and Foot Fractures | Orthopaedics | Loyola Medicine

Fractures and Stress Fractures of the Ankle and Foot

Overview and Facts about Fractures and Stress Fractures of the Ankle and Foot

The human foot and ankle contain 26 bones. A fracture, or break in a bone, in this area of the body is a common orthopaedic condition that can result from a sudden injury or from repetitive force and overuse. Fractures often occur in the forefoot, heel bone, pilon, talus, or toe. Athletes are especially prone to develop fractures, but fractures in the feet and ankles can also be caused by non-athletic activity.

Signs and Symptoms of Fractures and Stress Fractures of the Ankle and Foot

Symptoms of a foot or ankle fracture include:

  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling

Pain caused by a fracture is often worse during periods of physical activity. Symptoms may lessen or even disappear with rest. Elevating the foot can also help relieve symptoms.

Causes and Risk Factors of Fractures and Stress Fractures of the Ankle and Foot

Fractures in the foot or ankle are often caused by intense physical activity. A stress fracture is a type of fracture caused by overuse, and acute fractures are caused by sudden injury. Any physical activity that involves repeated impact against a hard surface can trigger a stress fracture.

Stress fractures can result from:

  • High-impact sports
  • Poorly fitting shoes
  • Pre-existing foot problems
  • Osteoporosis
  • Vitamin D deficiency

Injuries that can cause an acute fracture include:

  • Sports injuries
  • Auto accidents
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Falls

Many people develop stress fractures due to a sudden increase in athletic activities. Physical activities performed on a hard surface, such as a paved sidewalk, can increase your risk of developing a stress fracture.

Medical conditions such as osteoporosis or low vitamin D levels can weaken your bones; and weak or brittle bones are more likely to develop fractures. Women and elderly people are also more prone to fractures.

Tests and Diagnosis of Fractures and Stress Fractures of the Ankle and Foot

An X-ray can help reveal fractures in the foot or ankle area. If your doctor cannot clearly see a fracture on an X-ray, they might recommend other imaging tests. A bone scan or an MRI can provide a more detailed picture of your foot or ankle.

In some cases, your doctor may also recommend blood tests to check your vitamin D levels. If your doctor suspects osteoporosis, they might advise you to get a bone density scan, which can help determine the strength of your bones.

Treatment and Care for Fractures and Stress Fractures of the Ankle and Foot

Given time, minor fractures sometimes heal on their own. If you have a minor fracture, your doctor may recommend limiting physical activity for several weeks. Your doctor might also suggest protective footwear or a removable brace to help your fracture heal correctly.

Severe fractures can require a cast or surgery. During this type of surgery, a surgeon inserts pins, screws, or plates into the bone to help the fracture heal.