Oh, That Bothersome Ankle!
Ankle injuries happen almost every day. A slip, bump, or roll of the ankle can cause a minor break. Furthermore, severe clashes, like a car accident or sports injury, can cause more severe injuries. More than 15% of ankle injuries are ankle fractures. Many of these then require surgery, namely an open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) procedure.
More than a bumpy bone
The ankle is more than a bump protruding on the sides of the foot. Several bones and ligaments come together to make up the ankle. The tibia or shin bone, fibula, and talus make up the ankle. Several ligaments and tendons work together to give ankle support and flexibility. An injury can cause one or more of these bones to break.
Do you need surgery?
For starters, someone with a possible broken ankle must seek medical help. A sprain and fracture can feel similar. A doctor will assess the fracture using x-ray and physical exams. From there, there are non-surgical means, including casts and splints, to help with healing. There are some instances where surgery makes sense. The main concerns are if the x-ray reveals multiple fractures or the bones are out of place. A fracture where the bones are penetrating the skin is another emergency. In these cases, ORIF surgery is the next best step.
Time for ORIF
Open reduction and internal fixation puts broken bones back into place to help with healing. The goal is to reconstruct and stabilize the bones so the ankle can operate normally again. ORIF happens in two parts. In the first part, called open reduction, the surgeon repositions the bones of the ankle. The doctor will make one or more incisions to access the bones. From there, the surgeon will then use surgical tools to but the bones back in place.
Keeping things together
The second part of the surgery involves internal fixation. The surgeon will need some way to keep the bones in place. This can include a combination of screws, pins, rods, or nails. The surgeon makes the right selection based on the degree of injury and availability of materials. Once the bones and implants are in place, the surgeon then stitches up the incisions. Screws and other supporting material stay in the ankle permanently. However, there are rare cases where the implant will need to be removed at a future date.
The road to a stronger ankle
The recovery period takes between 8-12 weeks. After 2 weeks, the doctor then removes the stitches and places the ankle in a cast. A cast then continues the healing process. Pain management and physical therapy come next. After the 8 weeks, the surgeon assesses the ORIF procedure. The patient will get a removable brace or cast to continue the rehab process for another month.
ORIF may be the answer
In most cases, a doctor can treat ankle fractures with non-surgical means. However, severe fractures, multiple breaks, or a loss of function will require surgery. Once the surgeon assesses the injury via x-ray, may be is the next step. Overall, ORIF has a high success rate and gets patients walking again. For more information, speak with a healthcare provider.