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What is an Ankle Dislocation?

An ankle dislocation occurs when the bones in the ankle joint are forced out of their normal positions, often due to a high-impact injury or fall. This painful condition can damage surrounding ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels. For a visual understanding, our article includes detailed images. Curious about the recovery process? Keep reading to learn how these injuries are treated and managed.
J.M. Willhite
J.M. Willhite

An ankle dislocation occurs when a bone in the ankle joint is moved out of place. Usually resulting from trauma to the ankle joint, a dislocation is a painful injury which requires prompt medical attention. Treatment generally involves surgery and a recovery period of up to six months.

The ankle joint is comprised of three main bones: the tibia and fibula, both located in the leg, and talus, positioned in the foot. When a dislocation occurs, one or more of these bones may be out of joint. A pure ankle dislocation is a rare occurrence. Normally, ankle dislocations occur in combination with either a fracture or sprain.

A cast may be used to hold a dislocated ankle in place as it heals.
A cast may be used to hold a dislocated ankle in place as it heals.

A variety of situations can contribute to the occurrence of an ankle dislocation. Individuals involved in sports, like football, gymnastics, or hockey, often sustain dislocations during practice, competition, or game play. Ankle dislocation can also occur during a fall, such as a tumble down the stairs. Trauma such as a direct blow to the ankle area, which is more than the joint can withstand, may result in dislocation.

Applying ice to the ankle will help reduce swelling.
Applying ice to the ankle will help reduce swelling.

An individual whose ankle joint has been dislocated will experience symptoms immediately. Not only will the ankle start to swell and bruise, but the individual may be unable to put weight on the ankle as he or she would when standing. In instances where the nerves become pinched, the individual’s foot may tingle and become numb. To prevent further damage, the ankle should not be moved while waiting for medical attention. Ice should be applied to the area to alleviate pain and swelling and prevent fluid buildup.

Hockey players are at a higher risk of ankle dislocation.
Hockey players are at a higher risk of ankle dislocation.

During a physical examination, the attending physician will generally order an x-ray and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) be conducted. An x-ray is used to evaluate the extent of the damage to the ankle joint, determine the position of the dislocated bone or bones, and rule out the possibility of fractures. The MRI is utilized to evaluate the extent of damage to the soft tissues surrounding the dislocation.

X-rays may be taken to determine the extent of damage caused by a dislocated ankle.
X-rays may be taken to determine the extent of damage caused by a dislocated ankle.

Treatment for ankle dislocation generally involves surgical relocation of the joint. Once the joint is repositioned, screws and pins are used to hold the bones in place for proper healing. After two to three months, the screws and pins are removed or, in extreme cases, the instrumentation may be permanent. Recovery following surgery generally lasts four to six months. If surgery is not conducted, it can take in the vicinity of one year for the dislocation to heal.

An individual whose ankle joint has been dislocated will experience symptoms immediately.
An individual whose ankle joint has been dislocated will experience symptoms immediately.

Ankle dislocations can be prevented with the use of ankle supports, braces, or other protective gear. Sufficient time should be taken to warm up prior to any activity to prevent dislocations. Once an individual experiences an ankle dislocation, he or she may be more susceptible to future ankle problems. Complications associated with ankle dislocations include infection, ligament calcification, and arthritis.

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Discussion Comments

Heavanet

@rundocuri- Your nephew could have a very minor ankle dislocation that could get much worse if he keeps walking on it. You should advise him to quit putting weight on it and make an appointment with his doctor for x-rays as soon as possible.

Talentryto

@rundocuri- It sounds more like your nephew has an ankle sprain, not a dislocated ankle. I think he would be in more pain, and unable to even stand on his foot if his ankle were totally dislocated.

Even though your nephew's problem might not be as serious as an ankle dislocation, he should still take his problem seriously. Making a trip to his doctor should be his next step to avoid further damage and discomfort.

Rundocuri

My nephew got injured playing baseball a few weeks ago, and I think that his ankle may be dislocated. His is still walking on it, but is being stubborn about going to the doctor. If it were dislocated, would he be able to get around on it?

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    • A cast may be used to hold a dislocated ankle in place as it heals.
      By: kameel
      A cast may be used to hold a dislocated ankle in place as it heals.
    • Applying ice to the ankle will help reduce swelling.
      By: Mark Herreid
      Applying ice to the ankle will help reduce swelling.
    • Hockey players are at a higher risk of ankle dislocation.
      By: Lorraine Swanson
      Hockey players are at a higher risk of ankle dislocation.
    • X-rays may be taken to determine the extent of damage caused by a dislocated ankle.
      By: andreaxt
      X-rays may be taken to determine the extent of damage caused by a dislocated ankle.
    • An individual whose ankle joint has been dislocated will experience symptoms immediately.
      By: lightwavemedia
      An individual whose ankle joint has been dislocated will experience symptoms immediately.
    • A dislocated ankle will immediately swell and bruise.
      By: Luis Santos
      A dislocated ankle will immediately swell and bruise.