With 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, the foot and ankle work together to provide balance, support and mobility to the body. Trauma to any of these bones or soft tissues can result in pain and inflammation as well as difficulty walking and an inability to bear weight on the foot.
Strains, sprains and fractures are the most prevalent foot and ankle injuries, affecting more than 1 million people annually in the United States. Ankle and foot trauma often occur during sports or recreational activities, but people also commonly suffer these injuries while walking or during normal activities at work or home.
Causes of Ankle and Foot Trauma
Strains, stretches or tears in the muscles or tendons are typically the result of a quick twist or pull. Sprains are also stretches or tears, but these affect the ligaments and are generally caused by a fall or trauma to the ankle or foot.
Bone fractures, or breaks, often occur during slips and falls, though they also can be the result of a direct impact to the foot or ankle, such as from an automobile accident.
Advancing age and repetitive stress to the foot and ankle can make a person more susceptible to these injuries. Improper footwear and inadequate sports training are also factors in many instances of ankle and foot trauma.
Ankle and Foot Trauma Diagnosis
In diagnosing ankle and foot trauma, the doctor will take a medical history regarding the injury and perform a physical examination to look for areas of pain, tenderness and inflammation. The doctor will also determine the extent of any mobility issues by checking for an inability to bear weight on the injured foot or ankle and by testing the range of motion in the joints.
If the examination suggests the possibility of a fracture, X-rays of the injured area will be ordered. With some cases of ankle and foot trauma, a CT scan or MRI can be helpful in confirming a specific diagnosis.
Treatments for Ankle and Foot Trauma
The first step in treating ankle and foot trauma is the RICE technique, which stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. This technique can be quite effective in the treatment of mild strains and sprains, but for some serious injuries, bracing may be advised.
Fractures to the foot or ankle usually require wearing a cast or walking boot for several weeks. Surgery may be necessary for severe sprains that completely tear the ligament and for unstable fractures in which the bones cannot stay aligned to heal properly. Physical therapy exercises are often recommended after an injury to the foot or ankle has healed.