June 5, 2019

What is a pilon fracture (lower leg/ankle break)?

Foot and Ankle | Trauma


A pilon fracture occurs when the bone breaks at the bottom of the shinbone (tibia), close to your ankle. Typically with this injury, the fibula (small bone in the lower leg) breaks as well.

A pilon fracture should not be confused with a broken ankle, as it is just above the ankle joint.

How do pilon fractures happen?

  • High impact collisions
  • Falls from heights
  • Skiing accidents

The bone typically shatters or is split into several pieces. However, less commonly, the tibia can break in one place.

If the bone breaks the skin, it’s known as a compound or “open” fracture. It’s important to get treated immediately if this occurs because the bone and the wound can become infected.

What are the symptoms of a pilon fracture?

  • Intense pain occurring immediately after the injury
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Unable to put weight on the injured leg
  • Deformity of the leg


What is the treatment for a pilon fracture?

After the injury occurs, medical attention will be needed as soon as possible. In some cases, a pilon fracture is a medical emergency. Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. OrthoIndy Trauma physicians are at St.Vincent Indianapolis Level I Trauma Center. OrthoIndy also has urgent care clinics conveniently located throughout Indianapolis. Once the severity of the injury is determined, surgery may or may not be required.

Nonsurgical treatment

    • Splint or a cast
    • Regular follow up visits and X-rays
    • Unable to bear weight for up to 12 weeks
    • Might be given crutches or a walker to assist you while walking

At-home treatment for foot and ankle injuries

Surgical treatment

Pilon fracture surgery is required when the bones are out of place. It can only be performed when the swelling goes down which can take up to two weeks. The type of pilon fracture surgery will be determined by the physician after diagnosing the injury.

How long does it take to recover from pilon fracture surgery?

Depending on the severity of your pilon fracture, your recovery time may vary.

Managing the pain is the first step. You most likely will begin moving your ankle anywhere from two to six weeks. You may be able to bear weight between two to three months. After four months, you may be walking after a pilon fracture with no assisted aid.

A pilon fracture physical therapy program will be put in place to help strengthen the muscle and will continue as long as your doctor sees fit.

Learn more about trauma care at OrthoIndy.

Schedule an appointment

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.

Schedule an Appointment Call OrthoIndy 317.802.2000

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