Symptoms and causes

If you have a broken ankle or broken foot, you may experience some of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Immediate, throbbing pain
  • Pain that increases with activity and decreases with rest
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness
  • Deformity
  • Difficulty in walking or bearing weight

When to see a doctor

See a doctor if there is obvious deformity, if the pain and swelling don't get better with self-care, or if the pain and swelling gets worse over time. Also, see a doctor if the injury interferes with walking.

The most common causes of a broken ankle or a broken foot include:

  • Car accidents. The crushing injuries common in car accidents may cause breaks that require surgical repair.
  • Falls. Tripping and falling can break bones in your ankles or feet, as can landing on your feet after jumping down from just a slight height.
  • Impact from a heavy weight. Dropping something heavy on your foot is a common cause of fractures.
  • Missteps. Sometimes just putting your foot down wrong can result in a broken bone. A toe can get broken from stubbing your toes on furniture. Twisting your ankle just right can cause a sprain or a broken bone.
  • Overuse. Stress fractures are common in the weight-bearing bones of your ankles or feet. These tiny cracks are usually caused over time by repetitive force or overuse, such as running long distances. But they can also occur with normal use of a bone that's been weakened by a condition such as osteoporosis or a stress fracture.

You may be at higher risk of a broken foot or ankle if you:

  • Participate in high-impact sports. The stresses, direct blows and twisting injuries that occur in sports such as basketball, football, gymnastics, tennis and soccer are causes of foot and ankle fractures.
  • Use improper technique or sports equipment. Faulty equipment, such as shoes that are too worn or not properly fitted, can contribute to stress fractures and falls. Improper training techniques, such as not warming up and stretching, also can cause foot and ankle injuries.
  • Suddenly increase your activity level. Whether you're a trained athlete or someone who's just started exercising, suddenly boosting the frequency or duration of your exercise sessions can increase your risk of a stress fracture.
  • Work in certain occupations. Certain work environments, such as a construction site, put you at risk of falling from a height or dropping something heavy on your foot.
  • Keep your home cluttered or poorly lit. Walking around in a house with too much clutter or too little light may lead to falls and foot and ankle injuries.
  • Have certain conditions. Having decreased bone density (osteoporosis) can put you at risk of injuries to your foot and ankle bones.

Complications of a broken ankle or broken foot are uncommon but may include:

  • Arthritis. Fractures that extend into the joint can cause arthritis years later. If your ankle or foot starts to hurt long after a break, see your doctor for an evaluation.
  • Bone infection (osteomyelitis). If you have an open fracture, meaning one end of the bone protrudes through the skin, your bone may be exposed to bacteria that cause infection.
  • Compartment syndrome. This condition can rarely occur with ankle fractures. It causes pain, swelling and sometimes disability in affected muscles of the legs or arms.
  • Nerve or blood vessel damage. Trauma to the foot or ankle can injure adjacent nerves and blood vessels, sometimes actually tearing them. Seek immediate attention if you notice any numbness or circulation problems. Lack of blood flow can cause a bone to die and collapse.