This guide will help you understand ankle pain after a car accident. In addition to what to look for to determine if your ankle is broken or sprained, you will learn about types of ankle fractures you can suffer in an accident and types of treatment that can be used for your injury. You will also learn about foot pain after a car accident. This will include heel, midfoot, forefoot, and toe injuries as well as their treatment.
CAUSES OF ANKLE AND FOOT INJURY
Ankle and foot injuries are common in head-on-collisions and in T-bone accidents. This happens because the extreme force in this type of car accident causes the foot space within the internal car compartment to crush. As the driver and/or passengers resist this force by placing weight on their feet, the energy is absorbed through the ankle and foot. In fact, right foot injury in a car accident is actually more common than left foot injury because drivers load their weight on the brake pedal with their right foot. This loading weight increases the likelihood of injury as the impact is absorbed through the toes, foot, and ankle.
ANKLE AND FOOT ANATOMY
Understanding ankle and foot anatomy will help you understand ankle and foot pain after a car accident.
The pictures above illustrate the bones of the ankle, an articulating joint that connects the lower leg to the foot and allows humans to stand upright and walk. The joint itself is made up of three main bones: the tibia and fibula of the lower leg and the talus of the foot. The end of the fibula where it connects to the talus is called the lateral malleolus. The end of the tibia where it connects to the talus is called the medial malleolus and the posterior malleolus. The bracket-shaped space (socket) between these bones is called the mortise. Any of these bones can be broken or fractured in an automobile accident, whether it involves a car, truck, or motorcycle.
The ankle joint itself is held together by a series of very strong ligaments illustrated in the picture below. Any of these ligaments can be sprained, torn, or ruptured.
Made up of more than 100 moving parts, the foot is one of the most complicated structures in the human body. Those many moving parts include bones, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves. Any of these structures can be injured in a car, truck, or motorcycle accident.
Commonly known parts of the foot include the heel (also known as the calcaneus), the midfoot, the forefoot, and the toes. Together they help the body stand, balance, walk, run, jump, and climb.
The picture below illustrates the bones of the foot, heel, and toes. The trauma from a car accident can break any of the numerous bones depicted and leave the victim with pain and limited mobility.
The picture below illustrates the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves of the foot, all of which are structures that may be injured in an accident.
COMMON ANKLE AND FOOT INJURIES
We rely on our ankles and feet to get where we want to go. In fact, they carry our entire body weight when we are standing, but it’s not until they suffer an injury that we realize how important they are to us. When they are injured in a car crash, the injury can be temporary or utterly devastating. Below are the most common injuries suffered:
Ankle Injuries from a Car Accident
Is an Ankle Broken or Sprained?
An ankle fracture occurs when the bones are broken. An ankle sprain occurs when you tear or stretch the ligaments that hold the ankle together. For non-medical professionals, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two because the symptoms are often very similar. Ankle fracture symptoms include:
- throbbing pain
- increased pain with walking
Because these symptoms are basically the same, the only real way to tell the difference is to have the injury examined by a medical doctor. A doctor will take a history and perform a physical examination as well as take either an x-ray and/or MRI. All of this will allow the doctor to tell the difference between an ankle fracture vs an ankle sprain.
Ankle fractures involve breaks to any of the bones of the ankle. The most common types of breaks include:
- Distal fibula fractures
- Lateral malleolus fractures
- Medial malleolus fractures
- Posterior malleolus fractures
- Bimalleolar fractures
- Trimalleolar fractures
- Talus fractures
- Pilon Fractures (the distal part of the tibia)
- Syndesmotic Injuries (disruption of the distal attachment of the tibia and fibula)
These fractures can be nondisplaced (the broken bones remain in place but are cracked) or displaced (the bones are no longer in place). Nondisplaced fractures can often be treated with a splint or cast whereas displaced fractures will require surgery, typically which involves open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF). In a car, truck, and motorcycle accident, ankle fractures are more likely to be displaced and more likely to require ORIF surgery.
Ankle avulsion fracture
An ankle fracture that includes an avulsion happens when the impact forces are so strong that a ligament or tendon literally pulls a piece of broken bone off. Although they can often be treated without surgery, after a car accident these fractures most likely will require ORIF surgery.
Foot Injuries from a Car Accident
The hindfoot, also called the rear foot, is made up of the calcaneus and the talus. The calcaneus is a medical word for the heel bone and the talus is a turtle-shaped bone that sits on top of the heel bone. The fibula and tibia of the lower leg sit on top of the talus. Any of these bones can be broken in a car accident and depending on the severity of the injury, treatment may include splinting, casting, and even surgery.
Achilles tendon tear
The Achilles tendon starts at the bottom of the calf muscle at the back of the leg and connects to the heel and helps stabilize the foot and hold us upright when walking. Some minor Achilles tears will heal on their own with limited use but unfortunately, more severe tears or ruptures of the tendon may require surgery to fix. One severe type of Achilles tendon tear is called an avulsion injury: this occurs when the immense force in a car accident tears the Achilles tendon, fractures the heel bone, and pulls a part of the broken bone off the remainder of the heel.
Midfoot (Lisfranc) Fractures
The midfoot is made up of five small bones that sit in front of the heel. These bones are:
- Lateral cuneiform
- Medial cuneiform
- Intermediate cuneiform
Although it is possible to break these bones in a car accident, it occurs less frequently than ankle fractures. Surgery to repair these fractures often require metal plates and or screws to hold the bones in place during the healing process.
Forefoot and Toe Fractures
The forefoot is made up of five metatarsal bones, which include the proximal phalanges in the ball of the foot and the distal phalanges that make up the toes. Most of these fractures are able to heal without surgery. Nondisplaced fractures (the bones are cracked but remain in place) often heal with rest and limited use. Displaced fractures (the bones are broken and out of place) will usually require surgery to ensure it heals properly and doesn’t affect future mobility.
Foot Compartment Syndrome
It is important to note that the foot is made up of several closed compartments. Therefore, foot compartment syndrome occurs when tremendous swelling from fluid buildup or blood leaking into one of these compartments happens. When the fluid or blood has nowhere to go, pressure builds up. Sometimes, this pressure is able to subside on its own over time without surgery. However, if the pressure gets too severe, it will permanently damage the tendons, ligaments, and blood supply of the foot and will ultimately require emergency surgery to cut the foot open and relieve the pressure.
DO YOU NEED TO HIRE A CAR ACCIDENT LAWYER?
Whether or not you need to hire a lawyer for the ankle or foot pain you experience after a car accident, motorcycle accident, or truck accident depends entirely on the severity of the injury and who is at fault. If the pain goes away on its own, there may be no reason to hire an auto accident lawyer. But if the pain lingers, you need surgery or suffer a permanent injury, and the accident was not your fault, you should definitely consult with an attorney. The skilled attorneys of Distasio Law Firm have been helping victims of auto accident injuries for years, and we are here to help.