Ankle Splints: Posterior Ankle & Stirrup

Instructor: Anna Monroe

Anna is an emergency medicine and sports medicine physician.

In this lesson, we will define posterior ankle and stirrup splints, and we will also discuss the appropriate situations to properly use these splints.

Life's Unexpected Injuries

Sometime life takes you (literally) off your feet. Stepping in a hole, stumbling on the sidewalk, or landing awkwardly in a pick-up basketball game can cause an ankle injury. One minute you are fine, and the next minute you can't walk without a lot of pain. How do you get back on your feet? The answer sometimes involves a posterior ankle splint or stirrup splint.

What are posterior ankle and stirrup splints?

An ankle splint is often a plaster or fiberglass structure applied to the foot and ankle. It is combined with padding material to protect the skin and an elastic bandage to hold everything in place. Sometimes the splint is also prefabricated or molded from plastic.

Splints are usually used right after an injury when there is a lot of swelling. They are often replaced with a brace or a cast once the limb becomes less swollen. Posterior ankle and stirrup splints are used for ankle and foot injuries.

Plaster Splints

This image below shows the plaster part of plaster arm splint. The plaster is cut to size, moistened, and applied. It hardens as it dries into a mold of the arm. In this picture the splint acts to prevent bending and straightening (flexion and extension) at the elbow. The same type of splinting material can be used to create posterior ankle and stirrup splints.

Sometimes the splinting material is also a prepackaged sandwich of padding and fiberglass.

Plaster splint for the arm showing an example of a common type of splinting material

Posterior ankle splint

This splint consists of a layer of splinting material applied from the middle of the calf muscle (the large muscle found at the back of the lower leg) all the way around the heel to the end of the foot. Like it's name suggests, it involves immobilizing the back of the ankle. This type of splint helps prevent pointing and flexing at the ankle (dorsiflexion and plantarflexion).

Sketch of a posterior ankle splint

Stirrup ankle splint:

A stirrup ankle splint fits around the sides of the lower legs and the foot like a stirrup. It prevents inward and outward movement at the ankle (inversion and eversion).

Sometimes the posterior splint and stirrup splint are applied together for even more support. The combination of the two prevent motion at the ankle in all directions.

Sketch of a stirrup ankle splint

When to use a posterior ankle or stirrup splint

The posterior ankle or stirrup splint come in handy for almost any type of injury to the foot or ankle. Here is a list of some common injuries which are ideal for the aid of an ankle splint:

  • Ankle sprain
  • Fracture (break) at the lower leg, foot, or ankle
  • Foot sprain
  • Severe calf strain
  • Achilles tendon rupture

How do you pick whether to apply a posterior ankle splint, a stirrup splint, or both? Comparing the type of immobilization each splint offers with a specific injury helps determine the answer. For example, a posterior splint would best immobilize an acute Achilles tendon rupture since it prevents dorsiflexion and plantarflexion of the foot. The Achilles tendon helps point the foot (plantarflexion), and if it is injured, it might be necessary to prevent this motion with a posterior ankle splint while healing occurs.

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