As much as 70 percent of all cases of osteoarthritis in the ankle are thought to be caused by past trauma to the joint, and the more extensive the injury, the more likely arthritis is to occur. While some cases of broken ankles require immediate medical treatment and are therefore caught early, stress fractures can build up over time and may end up doing more damage in the long run. Catching this type of fracture early and developing a comprehensive care plan is essential to lower your risk of arthritis in the following decades.
Seeking Quick Medical Attention
When you fall from a height or get hit in the ankle, you should know to head to the nearest emergency room to have your leg examined. When you experience a stress fracture, on the other hand, this is sometimes less obvious. Because these fractures accumulate through regular, low-grade wear on the bones and joints, you may be tempted to write off the pain as a sore or sprained ankle, but this will only compound the damage done to your joints. If you notice a nagging pain in your ankle that doesn't clear up on its own in a few days, you should visit a podiatrist and have it examined to be safe.
Preserving Damaged Cartilage
When a stress fracture is found in your ankle, it will be imaged to determine the extent of the damage and the best course of treatment. If you caught it quick enough, you may be able to have it wrapped or set in a cast to heal normally on its own. In cases of severe or widespread fractures, however, surgery may be needed to return the joints to their usual efficient functioning. All of this is done to preserve as much cartilage as possible within your ankle; it is the gradual deterioration of this cartilage that leads to osteoarthritis, and any trauma can have a significant impact on the thickness of the cartilage in the affected area.
Allowing the Bones and Joints to Heal Fully
Once your ankle has been treated and set, follow your podiatrist's instructions to avoid exacerbating the injury. Recovering stress fractures can be deceptive, and you may think that your ankle is ready to support your weight or return to exercise before it is fully healed. Too much activity too soon will just lead to further stress and cartilage damage, so make sure you have your doctor's blessing before putting on your running shoes once more.
Avoiding Further Deterioration
Even with the best medical attention and a diligent recovery process, it's likely that your broken ankle will heal with some lasting damage to the cartilage. This isn't a guarantee that you will develop arthritis later on, but you can improve your chances of preventing arthritis by avoiding stressing your ankle in the future. This might mean investing in better running shoes or prosthetics or following a less-strenuous exercise plan. Talk to your podiatrist about the likely cause of your original stress fracture and how to avoid damaging your valuable cartilage from now on to avoid aching, uncomfortable ankles decades later.
For more information, contact a podiatrist such as Jeffrey M Marks DPM.