Caring for a Broken Foot or Broken Ankle

It seems like a week doesn’t go by without some public figure who stumbles and breaks or fractures their foot or ankle. Recently, Vegas magician Lance Burton broke his foot during his act. Actress Jennie Garth stumbled in her home when she went to answer the door while holding her baby and fractured her foot. In LaGuardia Airport, returning to Washington for more congressional meetings, Supreme Court Nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor stumbled and broke her ankle. Houston Rockets star center Yao Ming broke his foot during the NBA playoffs, which doctors now say may be a career-ending injury.

A fracture is a disruption of the integrity of the bone. So a fracture is a broken bone. It is one and the same. I often hear my patients in my Houston podiatry practice ask me if they have a break or a fracture. The answer is “yes.”

Like everything, there are different levels of severity of foot and ankle fractures, but even the most minor of these injuries require immobilization, usually with a walking cast-boot, often referred to as a cam-walker. Although it does not provide full immobilization, it does take enough pressure off of the bones and reduces the pull of the muscles and tendons to be adequate. When the fracture is stable, this is a good option to minimize the loss of mobility and muscle atrophy.

Other, more severe, fractures need true immobilization with non-weightbearing casts made of fiberglass or plaster along with the use of crutches. This transfers all pressure off of the bone and eliminates the pull of the muscles. Best used for fractures in good position but in an unstable area, this treatment can be expected to continue for a minimum of six to eight weeks. This is the amount of time necessary for bone to clinically heal with enough strength to bear weight.

When a bone is displaced, angulated, or in an area at risk for not healing well, surgical care of the injury is needed. This can include using surgical plates, pins, and screws to repair the bone in the best position and with maximum stability. This is almost always followed with the application of a cast or cam-walker for the same six to eight week healing period.

It does not take a major traumatic injury to break a bone in your feet or ankle. A misstep off a curb, stepping in a hole in a parking lot, or even a twist and stumble at home is all it takes to injure the bone. If something like this happens, and you have even a small amount of bruising or swelling, visit your podiatrist to be sure you get the appropriate treatment.