Diagnosis

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 that your doctor can examine your gait.

Imaging tests

If your signs and symptoms suggest a break or fracture, 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 a vein. 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. This imaging helps to show ligaments and bones and can identify fractures not seen on X-rays. These more-advanced imaging studies are normally used in people whose occupations require them to be active on their feet, such as athletes.

Treatment

Treatments for a broken ankle or broken foot will vary, depending on which bone has been broken and the severity of the injury.

Medications

Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).

Therapy

After your bone has healed, you'll probably need to loosen up stiff muscles and ligaments in your ankles and feet. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to improve your flexibility and strength.

Surgical and other procedures

  • Reduction. If you have a displaced fracture, meaning the two ends of the fracture are not aligned, your doctor may need to manipulate the pieces back into their proper positions — a process called reduction. Depending on the amount of pain and swelling you have, you may need a muscle relaxant, a sedative or even a general anesthetic before this procedure.
  • Immobilization. To heal, a broken bone must be immobilized so that its ends can knit back together. In most cases, this requires a cast.

    Minor foot fractures may only need a removable brace, boot or shoe with a stiff sole. A fractured toe is usually taped to a neighboring toe, with a piece of gauze between them.

  • Surgery. In some cases, an orthopedic surgeon may need to use pins, plates or screws to maintain proper position of your bones during healing. These materials may be removed after the fracture has healed if they are prominent or painful.

Preparing for your appointment

You will likely initially seek treatment for a broken ankle or broken foot in an emergency room or urgent care clinic. If the pieces of broken bone aren't lined up properly for healing, you may be referred to a doctor specializing in orthopedic surgery.

What you can do

You may want to write a list that includes:

  • Detailed descriptions of your symptoms
  • Information about medical problems you've had
  • Information about the medical problems of your parents or siblings
  • All the medications and dietary supplements you take
  • Questions you want to ask the doctor

For a broken ankle or foot, basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What tests are needed?
  • What treatments are available, and which do you recommend?
  • If I need a cast, how long will I need to wear it?
  • Will I need surgery?
  • What activity restrictions will need to be followed?
  • Should I see a specialist?
  • What pain medications do you recommend?

Don't hesitate to ask any other questions you have.

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor may ask some of the following questions:

  • Was there a specific injury that triggered your symptoms?
  • Did your symptoms come on suddenly?
  • Have you injured your ankles or feet in the past?
  • Have you recently begun or intensified an exercise program?

What to do in the meantime

If your injury isn't severe enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room, here are some things you can do at home to care for your injury until you can see your doctor:

  • Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, every three to four hours to bring down the swelling.
  • Keep your foot or ankle elevated.
  • Don't put any weight on your injured foot or ankle.
  • Lightly wrap the injury in a soft bandage that provides slight compression.