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What is the Lateral Malleolus?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The lateral malleolus is a bony prominence on the fibula, one of the long bones that makes up the lower leg. The fibula is the narrowest of the long bones, situated on the outside of the leg, with this prominence creating the distinctive bump on the outside of the ankle. It is frequently involved in ankle fractures.

At birth, the ends of the fibula are actually cartilaginous, eventually ossifying and turning into solid bone as people get older. The lateral malleolus articulates with the talus, one of the bones in the ankle, creating the ankle joint. This structure is partially responsible for stabilizing the joint and transferring weight from the upper body to the ankle.

When people experience ankle fractures, this part of the bone is often involved. A piece of the bone may chip off, or the lateral malleolus may fracture, destabilizing the joint. This will be clearly visible in X-ray images taken of the ankle. An orthopedic physician can examine the X-rays to determine how serious the break is and to recommend the best form of treatment.

In some cases, casting and wearing a support boot can be enough to keep the ankle still and stable while the fracture heels. The patient may also need to use crutches or a wheelchair to avoid placing weight on the ankle in the early weeks of healing to give the bones a chance to heal without stress. A follow-up X-ray can be used to determine whether or not this course of treatment is working for the patient.

In other instances, it may be necessary to perform surgery to pin the joint. Pinning is done when the bones cannot knit on their own or when they need some extra support. Once they have healed, the pins may be removed, or left in, depending on the preference of patient and healthcare professional. Surgery is performed by a foot and ankle surgeon or a general orthopedic surgeon.

Some people have noted that the lateral malleolus sometimes ends up bruised or calloused, thanks to the fact that it projects from the ankle. Bruising is not uncommon, and may leave the area looking black and blue as well as sore for a few days. If people experience extreme pain, instability of the joint, or trouble walking when they think that the bone is bruised, it may actually be broken, and it can be a good idea to see a medical profesisonal to get the site examined. If it is broken, it is important to get timely treatment.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon327818 — On Mar 31, 2013

I recently got my cast off for a lateral malleolar fracture. My orthopedic however just kept calling it the 'weird one' because it was such a large chunk of bone(I think it was the entire bumpy outy bit of the ankle), and the fact that I broke it by twisting my foot inward.

After the initial break two days past and (which is when I really looked at my ankle, I had been avoiding the throbbing source of pain for a long time) the whole area was purple and black. I was then put in a cast for six weeks. After that he removed the cast and I am now wearing a brace for another month. After that he will make his decision about surgery. It is not a fun fracture.

I tried to deny it was broken for a couple of days, but my pain tolerance was just not enough.

By healthy4life — On Sep 19, 2012

@cloudel – An ankle injury is very painful. I fractured my lateral malleolus a few months ago, and I had to have surgery to repair it.

After it happened, my ankle swelled. A bruise developed, and it was incredibly tender. I couldn't put any weight on it.

The doctor had to put a plate and a screw in it so that it could heal like it should. I had to be on crutches for several weeks.

By cloudel — On Sep 18, 2012

I have banged my ankle really hard against furniture before, and it is so painful! It's like hitting your funny bone. It both tingles and sends shooting pains through your body.

I have never had a serious lateral malleolus injury. I would imagine that this would be incredibly painful. Just banging it against something makes it hard for me to walk for awhile.

By lighth0se33 — On Sep 18, 2012

The medial and lateral malleolus are both soft when you are a baby. I think this is why some babies have problems with club foot.

I had this condition as a baby. My feet were twisted inward, since the bones really weren't developed enough to hold them where they should be.

I had to wear a splint for months! I'm glad that my parents went along with this, though, because otherwise, I might not be able to walk today.

By StarJo — On Sep 17, 2012

There's a long name for everything, it seems! I bet when doctors are talking with each other, they say “lateral malleolus” instead of “ankle.” However, they would never use this terminology when talking to patients.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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