Healing of a broken ankle

Updated March 23, 2017

A broken ankle, or ankle fracture, occurs when one or more bones in the ankle joint separate. Ankle breaks and ligament damage may occur concurrently. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, fractures range from breaking one bone to severe fractures. You can still walk with one bone break, but severe fractures may require up to three months of healing time before you can put pressure on the ankle.


Symptoms of a broken ankle include throbbing pain, increased pain during physical activity or when walking, swelling, bruising, malformation, protruding bones and tenderness. Mayo Clinic staff says that hearing or feeling a snap does not mean your ankle is broken. Healing a broken ankle depends on the severity of your symptoms.


The R.I.C.E. method helps heal a broken ankle until you go to the doctor to assess the seriousness of the fracture. "R" stands for rest, meaning you should stay off your foot to prevent further damage. "I" means using ice to reduce swelling and pain. Put ice in a plastic bag and place a thin towel on ankle. Leave for 20 minutes every hour. "C" represents compression to prevent more swelling by wrapping ankle with as elastic bandage or wearing a compression stocking. "E" is for elevations. Keep foot elevated above hip level.

Small Fractures

It takes up to 6 weeks to heal a minor broken ankle. Doctors assess ankle injury and do an X-ray to check severity of fracture. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says your doctor may allow you to put weight on your foot right away or tell you to keep pressure off your foot. Fracture protection methods include high-top tennis shoes, adhesive bandages and short leg casts. Doctor may encourage you to use crutches and prescribe pain medication to make you comfortable. Doctors continue doing X-rays on your ankle to make sure it is healing properly and that bone fragments have not moved out of alignment.


Unstable broken ankles require surgery to heal injuries. To stabilise ankles, doctors put plates and screws on the side of broken bones or insert screws or rods in the bones to realign bone fragments. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says fractures that cause indention of the ankle joint need bone grafting to repair the injury to reduce arthritis risks. Surgeons may place plates and screws on the back of the shin bone for added stabilisation. Mayo Clinic staff says surgeons may remove pins, screws and plates after the ankle heals if they cause pain or become prominent. You need physiotherapy after the injury heals to restore mobility.

After Healing

You can return to normal physical activity and exercise in about 3 to 4 months, once a broken ankle heals. Continued rehabilitation helps reduce pain and improve mobility. You may limp for several months and not be able to perform competitive sports for a few months. The American Academy of Orthopaedic says that you may need two years to fully recover.

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About the Author

Based in Tucson, Ariz., Cicely A. Richard has been writing since 1996. Her articles have been published in the “Arizona Daily Star” newspaper and “ForeWord Magazine.” Richard earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and journalism from Louisiana State University. .