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How To Recognize and Treat a Broken Ankle


Updated June 20, 2014

Broken ankles are very painful injuries and rarely life-threatening emergencies. Learn to recognize a broken ankle to decide how to respond to it.

Signs and symptoms of a broken ankle:

  • pain (almost always present)
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • deformity (ankle appears misshapen)
  • numbness or tingling
  • broken skin with bone visible
  • limited mobility of the ankle
  • victim is unable to bear weight on the ankle


Difficulty: N/A

Time Required: Depends on the severity of the broken ankle

Here's How:

  1. Safety First! Make sure the victim is in a safe location. It is more important to worry about rescuer and victim ongoing safety than to worry about one broken ankle.


  2. Check ABC's. Make sure the victim has an Airway, is Breathing, and has Circulation.


  3. Control bleeding.


  4. Look for other injuries. If a victim shows signs of injury to the head, neck, or back, DO NOT move the victim.


  5. Cover any broken skin with sterile dressings.

    If needed, the wound can be rinsed -- try to use sterile water or saline solution.

    Open wounds may require stitches.


  6. If an ambulance is responding, have the victim remain still and wait for the ambulance.

    Proceed to step 10 (ice on the break).


  7. If an ambulance is unavailable, it may be necessary to splint the broken ankle. Before splinting, check circulation, sensation, and motion.
    1. Check circulation by comparing the color and temperature of the injured ankle against the uninjured ankle.
    2. Check sensation by asking the victim which toe you are touching.
    3. Check motion by having the victim wiggle his or her toes.


  8. To splint a broken ankle, splint the ankle with a pillow. You can also fashion a foot splint out of cardboard. Be sure to immobilize the foot and shin area as well. Any movement will result in pressure on the ankle. Do not wrap the ankle too tight.


  9. After splinting, recheck circulation, sensation, and motion.


  10. Put an ice pack on the break to reduce swelling. Put a sheet or towel between the ice and the skin to prevent frostbite. Leave ice on for 15 minutes, then remove ice for 15 minutes.



  1. Remember, DO NOT move a victim with suspected head, neck, or back injuries unless it is to keep rescuers or victim safe.
  2. Always practice universal precautions and use personal protective equipment whenever you may come in contact with blood or body fluids.
  3. Call 911 for a leg broken above the knee, a broken hip, a broken pelvis, a neck or back injury, or a head injury. It is still acceptable to summon an ambulance for a broken ankle, but try to call on the ambulance agency's non-emergency line if known.
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  5. Breaks & Sprains
  6. How To Recognize and Treat a Broken Ankle

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