Harsh Winter Forecast: The Perfect Storm for Broken Bones

Orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons offer advice
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With the Farmers' Almanac prediction of an unusually cold and stormy weather forecast this winter orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons are bracing for a busy season.  Unfortunately, snowy and icy weather conditions increase the number of sprains and fractures from falls. 

According to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) if a sprain or fracture is not treated properly, it could lead to long-term foot and ankle problems including chronic pain and instability.

John G. Anderson, MD, an orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon from Grand Rapids, MI. and the co-chair of the AOFAS Public Education Committee sees his share of broken ankles from falls due to the severe Michigan weather.   Should you sustain a foot or ankle injury, Dr. Anderson suggests, "Don't ignore it.  Seek medical attention if there is pain, swelling or bruising, to be sure it isn't something serious.  Many minor twists and slips can result in significant bone or ligamentous injury, and often, recovery can be hastened by early diagnosis and intervention."

Since a severe sprain often masks the symptoms of a broken ankle, a physician should examine every injury to the ankle. Symptoms of a broken ankle include:

>> Immediate and severe pain
>> Swelling
>> Bruising
>> Tender to the touch
>> Inability to put any weight on the injured foot
>> Deformity

A broken ankle may also involve damage to or tearing of the ligaments of the ankle.  An x-ray will determine the exact location of the break.  Often a CT (computed tomography) scan or a bone scan may also be required.  If the fracture is stable (without damage to the ligament or the mortise joint), it can be treated with a leg cast or brace.  It typically takes at least six weeks for a broken ankle to heal.  Additional x-rays will be necessary during the healing process to ensure that changes or pressures on the ankle don't cause the bones to shift.

Surgery may be required if the ligaments are torn or if the fracture created a loose fragment of bone that could irritate the joint.  The orthopaedic surgeon may use a plate, metal or absorbable screws, staples or tension bands to hold the bones in place.  Afterwards the surgeon will prescribe a program of rehabilitation and strengthening exercises.

Public education resources on ailments of the foot and ankle may be found on the AOFAS Patient Education website www.footcaremd.org.  The site also features a surgeon referral service, making it easy to find a local orthopaedic surgeon specializing in foot and ankle care.