When I broke my ankle two months before my 60th birthday in 2015, my number one priority was getting back on my feet as soon as possible. I was going to do everything in my power to make that happen. I believe healing is very much a proactive thing that involves the body, mind and spirit.
The details of my ankle rehabilitation continue below.
For the backstory, click here.
The medical evaluation
Following my trimalleolar fracture, I was told some dire things such as: the best outcome would be that I could walk again, it would take three to five months to be able to walk, I would be at risk for arthritis.
To all this I replied no, I’m going to get back on my feet fast, I’m going to get all my function back and I’m not going to get arthritis. And that left them speechless.
I did not, and still do not, accept any of that as my fate. This was merely information to use in designing my healing protocol.
Healing a broken ankle with nutrition
All good health begins with good nutrition (food and supplements) which is even more important when healing from an injury. The body is designed to heal itself but it needs the raw materials to do so.
My normal diet consists of whole food that I cook myself, but after my accident I made sure to keep it super clean, eliminating sugar and and alcohol because that inhibits healing. I mostly ate high-quality meat along with green vegetables, similar to a paleo diet.
I already take a well-rounded array of supplements, but some new ones were added immediately following the accident. These are all the supplements I feel were the most necessary for healing bones, joints, veins and nerves (purchased from ProCapsLabs.com): ultimate calcium intensive care, glucosamine 1500 and chondroitin 1200, vitamin K2, B-12, marine collagen peptides, circulation and vein support.
Six months after the accident I discovered NOW Foods hyaluronic acid which lubricates the joints (purchased from LuckyVitamin.com). This one made a noticeable difference in the pain and swelling. I wish I’d known about it from the beginning.
A note about vitamins: not all vitamins are created equal. I recommend staying away from tablets and the stuff you find at big box stores and drug stores.
Using the mind for healing
This is going to sound a little woo-woo, but what you believe you manifest. Your brain pays attention to what you tell it. So you don’t want to say to yourself, I’m never going to walk, even though it may feel that way. When those negative thoughts creep in, it’s important to kick them out immediately.
I repeated these affirmations throughout the day:
When I was still non weight bearing (NWB) and had to stand up using one leg, my leg got really tired from all the extra work. But when I would say “I’m strong,” it actually helped my leg to perform.
And when I was full weight bearing (FWB) but still dependent on the walker, saying to myself “I’m well-abled” was prophesying my full restoration. I would also visualize walking on my own. I believe that helped me to walk just 20 days after becoming FWB.
Another woo-woo thing to some is acupuncture. I decided to get five treatments when I was still struggling to walk, having had great success with it in the past.
Even though I know it works, the way it works is a bit of a mystery. My general understanding is that it helps energy (chi) flow properly through the body. My energy flow was blocked from surgery and the subsequent scar tissue and swelling. Following each treatment I noticed a reduction in pain.
Maintaining positive spirits during broken ankle recovery
It’s uplifting and a nice diversion during recovery to make plans for the future. These are some of the things I thought about:
• Going blonde
• Planning my 60th birthday party
• Giving back to the people who helped me
• Planning my triumphant return to the dance floor
Making myself more comfortable during recovery helped keep my spirits up (getting a knee scooter and a ramp).
Finally, noticing and celebrating the small improvements every day gave me hope.
Broken ankle exercises
Exercise is an important part of rehabilitating a broken ankle and I think it’s a good idea to start exercising as soon as possible. Here’s a breakdown of what I did from NWB to FWB.
The first two weeks after surgery, I didn’t do anything other than wiggle my toes in the cast. When the cast came off, I noticed that my calf was starting to shrink so I decided to do some exercises on my own.
For the next six weeks I wore a boot and was still NWB. While wearing the boot, which weighed three pounds, I did leg lifts very slowly, 20 reps three times a day. I also did isometric exercises, tensing up the calf and thigh muscles a few times during the day. As a result, there was very little wasting of the calf when the boot came off. My leg still ended up getting weaker and I wish I had done more sessions throughout the day.
Two weeks before being released by the doctor, I started physical therapy. Being NWB I was only allowed to do a few things which I did with the boot removed.
Take advantage of physical therapy if it’s offered to you. I was allowed 21 sessions which I completed over the course of five months.
Ankle exercises for NWB
Ankle pumps: while lying down with the leg elevated, slowly and gently bend foot forward, then straighten it out, stretching as much as possible without causing too much pain (20 reps, 4 sets, 5 times per day).
Toe curls: while still lying down curl toes down then flex them upwards (20 reps, 4 sets, 5 times per day).
Toe flexion/extension: stabilize the heel with one hand, then with the other hand curl toes under and hold for 30 seconds. Then pull the toes up and hold for 30 seconds (2 reps, 1 set, twice per day).
Marble pickup: place a bag of marbles on top of a towel, pick them up with the toes and put them in a bowl or move them from one side to the other (2 to 3 minutes, twice a day).
Toe curls on towel: With a towel on the floor and the foot resting on top, curl the toes to gather up the towel (10 reps, 2 sets, twice per day).
Ankle alphabet: while sitting or lying down, trace the letters of the alphabet using the foot and ankle only (1 rep, 2 sets, twice per day).
Toe tapping: while sitting, tap foot gently on the floor (2 minutes, twice a day).
Foot rocking: while sitting, very gently rock the foot backwards and forwards—toes down, then heel down (2 minutes, twice a day).
Check out this video for a demonstration of some of these broken ankle exercises:
Ankle exercises for FWB
I continued with the NWB exercises plus the following exercises that were phased in as time went on:
Recumbent exercise bike (up to 10 minutes a day)
Weight shifting: while standing on foam mat, shift weight from side to side (2 minutes, once a day)
Calf stretches: stand about three feet away from a wall with the injured leg behind and the other leg in front, keeping heels on the floor, lean against the wall and hold (30 seconds, twice a day)
Standing dorsiflexion: with the injured foot on a step, lean forward until a stretch is felt (30 seconds, twice a day)
Single leg balance: while standing on a foam mat or just the floor, balance on the injured leg (30 seconds, twice a day)
Theraband stretches: while sitting with the leg straight, put the foot in the center of the band and hold onto the ends with both hands, bend the foot slowly upwards and downwards (20 reps, 2 sets, twice a day)
Ankle lifts: while lying on the side with the foot hanging off the edge of the couch or table, and with a 1 to 5 pound weight wrapped around the foot, slowly raise and lower injured foot. Roll over to the other side and repeat (10 reps, 2 sets, twice a day)
Heel raises: while standing and holding onto something, stand on toes and slowly lower yourself down (20 reps, once a day)
Walking (10 to 15 minutes, once a day)
My physical therapist told me it can take a year or longer to regain full range of motion. When I started going there, my dorsiflexion was -5 degrees. On my last session it was 13 degrees. There’s still a ways to go before the left foot catches up with the right one.
Too little value is given to the power of rest, which goes beyond getting enough sleep. Exercise needs to be balanced with rest because that’s when the body heals itself. Exercise tears down muscle and rest builds it back up again.
There have been times when I’ve pushed myself too hard with exercise and activity which only caused me injury, so now I’ve learned to pace myself. For example, I try not to be on my feet for more than an hour at a time which is then followed up with resting on the couch with my legs up for a while.
As the day goes on, if I find my foot starting to feel more pain to the point that I want to start limping, that’s my cue to stop for the rest of the day and take it easy.
Nobody can tell you how much you should or should not be doing. You’ll just have to figure that out by listening to your body.
I wish you all well with your healing journey. And remember this: