walking up steps

Rehabbing my broken ankle

walking up stepsWhen 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:

I’m healthy,
I’m strong,
I’m well-abled,
I’m restored

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.

walking on stairs

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)

Standing dorsiflexion

Standing dorsiflexion

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)

Theraband stretches

Theraband stretches

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)

Ankle lifts

Ankle lifts

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.

Rest

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.

Icing my ankle

Icing my ankle

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: 

You’re healthy,
You’re strong,
You’re well-abled,
You’re restored

Related posts

Broken ankle recovery: learning to walk again

My magic shoes for broken ankle recovery

Broken ankle recovery: one year later

8 replies
  1. nerissa
    nerissa says:

    Thank you for your blog. I got my cast cut off today. Just under 6 weeks post second surgery to repair trimalleolar and dislocation (orif). When I’ve been feeling depressed, anxious, sore I’ve read through your blog and it’s helped. I’m hoping to start physio next week and everything you’ve written has given me hope and inspiration.

    • [email protected]
      [email protected] says:

      Thank you so much, Nerissa. It means a lot to me. You’ll be walking very soon now. Take care!

  2. David
    David says:

    g very much and thank you for it. Recently I slipped in the snow and ended up fracturing my ankle and pulled it out of place along with screwing up the tendons. I was transported to an ER who gave me a few drugs and reset my ankle manually. They then quickly wrapped my legs to keep everything stable and hoped that they could operate the next day if there wasn’t too much swelling.
    I was in a lot of pain the night before and requested intravenous pain meds all night long. Finally they did operate on the ankle and put some pins and plates in it to encourage healing. Now Im wearing the bandages they put your foot in after the operation and supposedly I am supposed to see the dr in two weeks to guage my progress. The dr. Said I wouldnt be putting weight on that foor for 4 weeks or more.

    Then they sent me to a rehabilitation facility to learn how to work in my home with this type of injury but I dont start that until tomoorow because today is Christmas. It has been extremely disheartening to see how Ive gone from an independent person to somebody who needs help. By the way, I am 52 and overweight also. My dad who is 80 keeps telling me I have to calm down and do what I need to do so I can come back home again. Im mixed in with the seniors at this home and I keep wishing to myself that I could leave. My dad keeps saying maybe in 2 weeks I could come home. I guess I should be grateful that I have a home to go back to.

    There’s just been so many vast changes in my life happening. Originally the hospital was going to send me to a facility in my hometown but then they thought it wouldn’t work and they wanted me to pick a new facility which was at least half an hour away. In the end, my insurance company admitted they made a mistake and sent me to the local one in my town after all which makes it easy for my dad to come see me.

    My sister and dad have been supportive but my dad has trouble with high stress situations like this. Gradually he’s learned to accept the situation I’m in and he’s always doing what He can to help me out. Buy some clothes for me to wear, etc. he’s still very unhappy that this happened to me though.

    I have learned that you can’t tell what the future will bring you.The dr might say my healing is progressing rapidly or he might say it’s going to take longer than he initially expected. I get really sad sometimes thinking about what my life has now become and if I’ll ever go home again. Some of the officials here say that I shouldn’t take more than a month to learn what I need but who knows.

    I just find it so amazing how a stumble in the snow can cause such drastic ripple effects throught my life.

    Thanks for listening to me,
    David

    • [email protected]
      [email protected] says:

      Hi David,

      I’m very sorry to learn about your accident. It’s bad enough to break your ankle but being away from home makes it that much worse. You do have a long recovery ahead of you but just remember that you’re getting better every day. Good luck and take care.

  3. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Thank you soooo much! I broke my ankle 7 weeks before my 60th birthday (it’s coming up in two weeks) Just got the go ahead to put FWB Amazing how weak the leg and ankle become. Go back to work this week with a walker. Hope to start physical therapy ASAP. How long did it take for you to walk on your own without any appliances?

    • [email protected]
      [email protected] says:

      Hi Nancy, I was able to walk on my own 20 days after being FWB, but I had a terrible limp so I kept using one crutch for stability while I trained myself to walk properly. I was finally able to ditch the crutch 33 days after that (53 days after becoming FWB). At that point I started going dancing and resumed most of my normal activities.

      Everybody is different and depending on the severity of the injury, it could take more or less time. Just do your best with the physical therapy and keep in mind that you’re getting better every day. This is a very hard thing to go through and I wish you well!

  4. Jackie
    Jackie says:

    Thanks so much for this. I’m now 6 weeks post-injury and my cast will come off in 3 more weeks. I suffered a trimalleolar fracture and dislocation whilst overseas and it took me a week to get back home (I was in a developing country, without expert medical help). Then I had to wait 5 days in hospital for the swelling to go down enough for surgery. I now have a plate and 7 pins, plus three screws and some wires. At first, my main problem was depression! I’ve never had such a traumatic injury and my total lack of mobility and the pain and discomfort caused me to wonder if I’d ever get through this. I’m gradually getting over that, with the help of meditation and a very supportive husband. I’d kind of put the actual physical rehabilitation on the back burner, but your story has made me start planning again. I will get through this and walk normally again, I will be able to practise my yoga again. I am strong. Thank you for sharing your story and showing me that I’ll be ok.

    • [email protected]
      [email protected] says:

      You’re very welcome, Jackie. I’m sure nobody realizes how devastating it is to break an ankle unless you experience it yourself. And being overseas at the time would have been even more traumatic. Your experience with yoga and meditation is bound to help you recover faster, and I wish you all the best!

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