With the hectic pace of the holidays, serious injuries from ice-related falls inevitably occur. Today, the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons reported that falls on icy surfaces are a major cause of ankle sprains and fractures, and it's critical to seek prompt treatment to prevent further damage that can prolong recovery.
Foot and ankle surgeon Matthew Dairman said the ankle joint is vulnerable to serious injury from hard falls on ice. "Ice accelerates the fall and often causes more severe trauma because the foot can go in any direction after slipping."
Dairman added that in cases of less severe fractures and sprains, it's possible to walk and mistakenly believe the injury doesn't require medical treatment. "Never assume the ability to walk means your ankle isn't broken or badly sprained. Putting weight on the injured joint can worsen the problem and lead to chronic instability, joint pain and arthritis later in life," he said. Dairman added that it's possible to fracture and sprain an ankle at the same time, and a bad sprain can mask the fracture. "It's best to have an injured ankle evaluated as soon as possible for proper diagnosis and treatment," he said. "If you can't see a foot and ankle surgeon or visit the emergency room right away, follow the RICE principle -- Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation -- until medical care is available."
Even though symptoms of ankle sprains and fractures are similar, fractures are associated with pain at the site of the fracture that can extend from the foot to the knee, significant swelling, blisters over the fracture site, bruising soon after the injury, and bone protruding through the skin -- a compound fracture, which requires immediate attention.
Most ankle fractures and some sprains are treated by immobilizing the joint in a cast or splint to foster union and healing. However, surgery may be needed to repair fractures with significant malalignment to unite bone fragments and realign them properly.
Dairman said newly designed surgical plates and screws allow foot and ankle surgeons to repair these injuries with less surgical trauma. "With newer bone-fixation methods, there are smaller incisions to minimize tissue damage and bleeding and accelerate the healing process," he said.
"If you fall on an icy spot and hurt your ankle, the best advice is to seek medical attention immediately. This aids in early diagnosis and proper treatment of the ankle injury and reduces the risk of further damage," said Dairman.