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Ankle Fracture Treatment & Management

  • Author: Kara Iskyan, MD; Chief Editor: Trevor John Mills, MD, MPH  more...
Updated: Dec 08, 2014

Prehospital Care

Patients with ankle injuries must be evaluated for further trauma.

For an isolated ankle injury, confirm neurovascular status of the concerned limb, decrease pain, and prevent further damage.

  • Cover open fractures with wet sterile gauze.
  • Stabilize the suspected fracture site with a pillow splint, air splint, or bulky Jones dressing before transporting patient. Try to immobilize the ankle in a neutral position if possible but avoid excessive handling. Immobilization helps decrease pain, bleeding, and damage to surrounding soft tissue.
  • Prehospital reduction of a fracture is not advised unless neurovascular compromise is evident (eg, presence of a cool, dusky foot) and a significantly prolonged transport time is anticipated.

Emergency Department Care

See the list below:

  • First, patients should be evaluated for multisystem trauma.
  • Once additional trauma is excluded, an ankle fracture should be identified as stable or unstable. Unstable fractures include any fracture-dislocation, any bimalleolar or trimalleolar fracture, or any lateral malleolar fracture with significant talar shift.
  • If neurovascular status of the extremity is compromised, the fracture should be reduced as soon as possible and reduction should be maintained during the healing period with a cast, external fixator, or open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF).
  • Open fractures should be guarded from further contamination by covering wounds with a wet, sterile dressing secured by loosely wrapped dry sterile gauze.
    • Confirm a current tetanus immunization, administering tetanus immunoglobulin when patients lack immunity and harbor a grossly contaminated wound.
    • Consider antibiotic prophylaxis, administering cefazolin for mild to moderately contaminated wounds and adding an aminoglycoside for highly contaminated wounds. Administer vancomycin and gentamicin if the patient is allergic to penicillin.
    • Leave fracture blisters intact. Once ruptured, blisters are more likely to become contaminated by skin flora.
  • Unless neurovascular compromise exists, reduction is best deferred to the orthopedic consultant when an unstable ankle fracture is diagnosed.
  • Closed reduction is accomplished as follows (refer to Dislocation, Ankle for specific techniques):
    • The orthopedic consultant typically reduces ankle fractures. Ankle dislocations are reduced easily, and physicians treating a new fracture should be skilled in their initial management; however, immediate reduction of a dislocation may not be required unless blood flow to the foot is compromised.
    • Provide either local anesthesia with a hematoma block[15] or procedural sedation.
    • Closed reduction is best achieved by manipulating the limb to reverse the direction of the original deforming forces. For example, a fracture-dislocation resulting from abductive stress requires pushing the affected site in an adduct direction to restore. Applying a concurrent distracting force often assists reduction attempts.
  • Simple, uncomplicated lateral malleolar fractures usually can be splinted in the ED, followed by arrangement of timely orthopedic follow-up care. Bimalleolar, trimalleolar, and pilon fractures necessitate urgent orthopedic attention for possible ORIF.
  • Provide analgesics liberally.
  • Splinting and casting (also see Splinting, Ankle)
    • Ankle splints are commercially available or may be constructed by sandwiching 10-12 layers of plaster between 4 sheets of cotton padding.
    • Posterior splint: Stable injuries can be treated initially with a posterior splint. Ask the patient to lie prone with the knee bent to a 90-degree angle when applying a posterior splint. Extend the splint from the metatarsal heads along the posterior surface of the leg to the level of the fibular head. Maintain the ankle at a 90-degree angle and mold the splint in the malleolar region.
    • Sugar tong/short leg stirrup splint: An alternative to the posterior splint is a sugar tong or short leg stirrup splint. Using 4- or 6-inch plaster, pass the splint under the plantar aspect of the foot, between the calcaneus and metatarsal heads. Secure in place with an elastic wrap.[16]
    • Splinting of a fracture with bulky padding (eg, Jones dressing) is indicated when immobilization and compression are needed but swelling is expected to progress. In very unstable ankle fractures, apply a bivalve cast. A normal cast is bivalved by cutting completely through the casting material on the medial and lateral aspects longitudinally to avoid extremity compression. Next, the bivalved cast is overwrapped with an elastic bandage to stabilize the fracture site, while still allowing for swelling and expansion.


Request orthopedic consultation for the following conditions:

  • Displaced medial, lateral, or posterior malleolar fracture
  • Medial malleolar fracture with lateral ligament damage
  • Lateral malleolar fracture with deltoid ligament damage
  • Fibula fracture at or proximal to the tibiotalar joint line (eg, Danis-Weber classification type C)
  • All bimalleolar fractures
  • All trimalleolar fractures
  • All intra-articular fractures
  • All open fractures
  • All pilon fractures

Consult a vascular surgeon when vascular flow to the ankle or foot is compromised. In a fracture with vascular compromise, angiography may be necessary.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Kara Iskyan, MD Staff Physician, Departments of Internal Medicine and Emergency Medicine, Allegheny General Hospital

Kara Iskyan, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, Emergency Medicine Residents' Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Andrew A Aronson, MD, FACEP Vice President, Physician Practices, Bravo Health Advanced Care Center; Consulting Staff, Department of Emergency Medicine, Taylor Hospital

Andrew A Aronson, MD, FACEP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, Massachusetts Medical Society, Society of Hospital Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

David B Levy, DO, FAAEM Senior Consultant in Emergency Medicine, Waikato District Health Board, New Zealand; Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine

David B Levy, DO, FAAEM is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, Fellowship of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, American Medical Informatics Association, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Trevor John Mills, MD, MPH Chief of Emergency Medicine, Veterans Affairs Northern California Health Care System; Professor of Emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California, Davis, School of Medicine

Trevor John Mills, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Francis Counselman, MD, FACEP Chair, Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Eastern Virginia Medical School

Francis Counselman, MD, FACEP is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Emergency Physicians, Norfolk Academy of Medicine, Association of Academic Chairs of Emergency Medicine, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


The authors and editors of Medscape Reference gratefully acknowledge the contributions of previous author, Jerome FX Naradzay, MD, to the development and writing of this article.

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Maisonneuve injury. Mortise view shows transverse fracture of the medial malleolus and widening of the tibiofibular syndesmosis without a fracture of the fibula. This injury is suggestive of a proximal fibula fracture (Maisonneuve fracture).
Pilon fracture in a 35-year-old man who fell 20 ft. Anteroposterior radiograph shows at least 2 fracture lines extending to the articular surface (plafond) of the tibia.
A 13-year-old girl with triplane fracture. Anteroposterior radiograph shows a sagittal component through the distal tibia epiphysis.
An 11-year-old girl with juvenile Tillaux fracture. Mortise view shows fracture involving the lateral portion of tibial epiphysis.
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