A broken ankle is one of the most common bone or joint injuries people experience. In fact, the incidence of ankle fracture is about 187 fractures per 100,000 people each year. An ankle fracture can happen to anyone at any age regardless of their activity level.
Regardless of the cause or severity of the fracture, it’s important to pay special attention to the recovery stage.
Broken Ankle Recovery Time
How long does the recovery process take? That will depend on the severity of the injury. It can take 6-12 weeks for a broken ankle to heal, but it may take longer if the injury is especially severe.
Your recovery time will also depend on the level of activity you want to return to. It will take longer to return to running and intense exercise than it will take to return to walking and other daily tasks.
With a stable ankle fracture, most doctors will recommend keeping weight off of the foot (using crutches, a boot, or another mobility device) for four to six weeks before going to physical therapy.
Typically, physical therapy starts after two months. Most patients are able to get up and walk around at this point, but it’s still too early to resume athletic activity.
It can take three to four months for the injury to heal enough for you to return to low-impact exercise.
In cases of an unstable ankle fracture, where surgery is required, the recovery timeline can be much longer – nine months to one year.
4 Tips for a Safe and Successful Recovery
Regardless of how long your recovery will take, it’s important to take care of yourself and follow your doctor’s recommendations to avoid re-injury. Use these four tips for a safe and successful recovery.
1. Rest and Pain Medication
Symptoms of broken ankles include pain, swelling, tenderness and bruising. To manage your symptoms, follow the PRICE protocol: protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation. You may need to do this for several days until the swelling comes down.
Talk to your doctor about pain management. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as naproxen or ibuprofen, may help keep your pain under control. With more complex or severe fractures, a more aggressive pain-management protocol may be required.
2. Avoid Weight-Bearing Activities
During the recovery phase, follow your doctor’s orders when it comes to weight-bearing activities. Depending on the severity of the injury, doctors may allow weight-bearing right away. A more severe injury may require you to wait several weeks before putting any weight on the injured foot.
When you are able to return to weight-bearing activities, make sure that you don’t overload the bone. It may be weeks or months to regain full bone strength.
Follow your doctor’s recommendations for activities and movement. Don’t resume daily activities, sports, work or other leisure activities until your doctor gives you the go-ahead to do so.
3. Perform the Doctor-Recommended Exercises to Rebuild Strength
Make it a priority to perform the doctor-recommended exercises to start rebuilding strength in your ankle when the time is right. Your doctor may recommend a combination of stretching, range-of-motion and strengthening exercises.
For more complex recoveries (e.g. after surgery), you may need to work with a physical therapist.
4. Call Your Doctor for Concerns
Talk to your doctor right away if there are any complications during your recovery, such as a fever, numbness, color changes in your ankle or foot, swelling or the inability to move your toes.
Mobility Options During Broken Foot Recovery
Mobility aids can help make your recovery go more smoothly while allowing you to return to your daily activities.
There are a couple of different types of mobility aids available for ankle injuries, including crutches and knee walkers.
Traditional crutches will allow you to move around while keeping weight off of your injured ankle. However, there are many drawbacks to using crutches, such as:
- They require the use of two hands
- They’re difficult to use if you have balance issues
- They can cause pain in the arms and hands
- They don’t allow you to keep your ankle partially elevated
There are hands-free crutches, which solve many of these problems. But they still require a learning curve and are not ideal for people with balance issues.
Hands-free crutches wrap around the upper leg and a platform to rest the knee. The platform keeps the foot elevated while providing some stabilization.
Knee scooters, or knee walkers, are a great alternative to traditional crutches. They’re efficient, they don’t require as much upper body strength as crutches, and they allow you to keep your ankle elevated.
The main drawback with a knee scooter is that you cannot use it on stairs, uneven terrain or slopes.
With any type of ankle injury, it’s important to remember that recovery takes time. The body has a remarkable ability to heal itself, but healing won’t happen overnight.
Allow yourself the time to recover properly – without rushing. Overdoing things prematurely may cause re-injury and extend the recovery process even longer.