Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

During the physical exam, your doctor will check for points of tenderness in your foot and ankle. The precise location of your pain can help determine its cause. He or she may move your foot into different positions, to check your range of motion. You may be asked to walk for a short distance so your doctor can examine your gait.

Imaging tests

Not all foot and ankle injuries require imaging. If your signs and symptoms meet certain criteria, your doctor may suggest one or more of the following imaging tests.

  • X-rays. Most ankle and foot fractures can be visualized on X-rays. The technician may need to take X-rays from several different angles so that the bone images won't overlap too much. Stress fractures often don't show up on X-rays until the break actually starts healing.
  • Bone scan. For a bone scan, a technician will inject a small amount of radioactive material into an intravenous line. The radioactive material is attracted to your bones, especially the parts of your bones that have been damaged. Damaged areas, including stress fractures, show up as bright spots on the resulting image.
  • Computerized tomography (CT). CT scans take X-rays from many different angles and combine them to make cross-sectional images of internal structures of your body. CT scans can reveal more detail about the bone and the soft tissues that surround it, which may help your doctor determine the best treatment.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to create very detailed images of the ligaments that help hold your foot and ankle together. If the ligaments are damaged, they can't keep the broken bone fragments aligned properly for healing. Surgery may be necessary.
Apr. 21, 2011