Tips on how to survive a broken ankle
It was a warm spring evening in San Francisco. I just got home after spending the day in Oakland working on my motorcycle. I parked my bike in my usual spot at home, but unfortunately the ground was a bit softer than usual and my kickstand sunk into the dirt, leaving it to bend and the bike to fall over on me and pin my ankle to a flower box. Believe it or not, I didn’t think my ankle was broken. I slept through the night and went to the emergency room to get it checked out in the morning. They promptly let me know I would need surgery.
I had what’s called a bimalleolar ankle fracture, which means both the tibia and fibula are broken. This leaves me with a very unstable ankle and will need ~3 months to heal post surgery.
First off, it’s going to be a long process, but probably not as long are you may think. Keep in mind that the only way out is through, so be patient with the process and yourself.
My Broken Ankle Timeline (currently in-progress)
- March 30: 💥Ankle, motorcycle and flower box collide
- April 1: 🚑 Next day trip to the ER
- April 10: 🔪Surgery!
- April 18: 💙 Hard Cast (major upgrade from having a splint)
- May 3: 👢Cam Boot
- May 22: X-Ray Check -In & begin Physical Therapy
- June 26: X-Ray Check-In & given the green light to full weight bear as pain allowed
- June 28: First steps without crutches (slow and painless)
- June 30: Walking in the boot almost always
- July 4: Walking out of the boot
- July 13: Only using the boot for commute and busy areas
- July 24: Completely out of the boot
- August 23: Removal of syndesmosis screw & some scar tissue
- August 24: Walking again
- September 10: Completely cleared
- January: Hardware continuing to bother me
- March 4: Follow up x-ray / apt to consider removing hardware
- April 18: Hardware removal
- April 20: Walking in boot
- April 30: Pretty much “back to normal”
- May 15: Starting physical therapy
The Mental Game
Everyone’s journey is going to be different, so be patient. You will need to work on your mental game more than ever over the coming months, so start now! It’s easy to get depressed in a situation like this, so get in front of it. Here are some things that helped me:
- Share your journey. You’d be surprised at how many people you know that have gone through something like this before and will be able to help you through it.
- Keep your friends and family close. Reach out to your people, and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Just because you’re broken doesn’t mean your can’t have quality time with your loved ones.
- Make plans. Plan things to look forward to, whether it’s coffee with a friend, or a to-do list for the next day. If you have nothing planned, you will just want to sit in bed all day and get the sads.
- Reach out. If the going gets tough, there are always people on the internet who have gone through the same thing. Hit them up! You might be surprised by how much support a total stranger can give.
Products That Help with a Broken Ankle
These are some items that I purchased or borrowed that have been incredibly helpful in keeping myself sane. I also recommend getting an Amazon Prime account, because shopping solo is a pain.
- Medication Tracking App ( I used Round)
- Shower Bench
- Shower Cast Cover: It won’t fit until you have a hard cast
- Shower Cap
- Body wipes
- Coffee Mug with snap lip
- Bum Bag : Easy access to the important stuff
- Knee scooter : Pricey but you can also rent / borrow them
- Disabled Parking pass
- Cotton Stockinette: If you have a CAM boot. Socks work, but your foot gets hot)
- Vitamin E Oil: To help reduce scar tissue / skin tension after incision is healed
- Icy Hot: For your hurt aches and pains (don’t put it on your ankle)
- CBD Edibles: To help you relax and actually get some good sleep.
What to Wear When you have a Cast
This one caught me off guard. I wore loose Lululemon pants to the ER the day after I broke my ankle, later learning that I had to cut them in order to get my leg out with a splint. Speaking from a woman's point of view, here are some tips:
- Order a couple full length rompers. They are comfy, but also look nice if you want to go out.
- Anything with extra pockets: Overalls, shortalls, hoodies, flannel shirts, cargo pants, etc
- Shorts. I prefer workout ones because they are comfy and have pockets.
- Wider leg pajama pants. They will help you sleep too, because your cast isn’t very soft on your other leg.
- Layers. Your body is healing and you are bound to have some hot and cold flashes. Changing sucks, so layers are key.
- Vans slip-ons because tying your shoes sucks for the first month.
Day to Day with a Broken Ankle
I was lucky enough to take a month off of work post surgery. If you have the ability to do this, I highly recommend it. Surgery is not only physically demanding, but mentally demanding too. Taking pain meds will make you hazy and tired, and often come with weird side affects. About a week post op I stopped taking the pain meds, which in my experience was very unpleasant. Just know that this won’t last more than a couple of days.
After that, it’s time to get back to “normal” life. While you need to keep your ankle up to reduce swelling, don’t be afraid to “do stuff”. I found it really helpful to start working out again and finding activities near me that could be done with a wheelchair or don’t require much movement. Everyone recommends watching a bunch of TV, but I did my best to save that for the evenings or when I was really tired. Hit up your friends to go for coffee, grab dinner or even hang out and play cards.
About 4 weeks post op I found that my energy levels were much higher and I could do a lot of things on my own. It’s easy to get in the mindset that you need to sit around all day, but you will still be able to travel, go out with friends and even go camping.
Workouts with a Broke Ankle
- Caroline Jordan YouTube Videos
- If you’re a Crossfitter, here are some E5MOM(25) that I did 3x a week:
10 Banded pull aparts
10 Banded row
10 DB shoulder press
15 Cals assault bike (one leg!)
10 Knee Push Ups
10 Bench Dips
10 Banded Lat Press
15 Cals assault bike (one leg!)
10 DB bench press
10 DB bent over row
10 sit ups
15 Cals ski
10 seated DB or kettle bell deadlift
10 DB rear delt fly
20 Flutter Kicks
5 x 10 Banded lat pulldowns, right side lat pull down, left side lat pull down
Remember your body is still healing. Take it at your own pace and don’t over do it. If you are exhausted one day, pass on the workout. You aren’t working on fitness goals right now, just trying to stay active and have a speedy recovery.
Once you’re allowed to do partial weight bearing, you can start using a stationary bike. I personally set my bicycle up on a trainer at home so I could get my legs moving everyday. Once you’re comfortable weight-bearing you can start doing air squats again as well as very light deadlifts to help rebuild some of the tissue in your legs.
Going Back to Work
I have a desk job, which made it much easier to return to work. The commute is challenging on crutches, so having the flexibility to work from home 1–2 days a week made my life much easier. Lyft line or Uber pools are helpful, and taking the bus isn’t bad once you are allowed partial weight bearing. Just be patient and always account for travel to take longer than you expect.
Remember to take breaks. You know your body best, and often you will need a break to do physical therapy stretches or just put your leg up. Healing is mentally and physically exhausting, so really pay attention to how you feel and treat your body accordingly.
Scars are badass, but they can also be uncomfortable once you start to wear footwear again. As soon are your stitches our out and you feel comfortable I highly recommend that you start doing scar massage. Simply massage the scars with your fingers. Scar massage can help to flatten and soften scars, especially during the immature phase of scarring, where the scar is in the healing stages or has just healed.
You can also apply vitamin E lotion, or liquid to the scars. Lotion that contains vitamin E has been known to soften scars and encourage healing.
6 weeks after surgery I started seeing a physical therapist. While you’re still healing bones and ligaments, there isn’t a whole lot you can do. Ankle circles, foot pumps, and the clam workout will help you get a bit mobile again and help with muscle atrophy.
I’ve continued to see a my physical therapist once a week since throughout my healing process. This has kept me accountable to my exercises and my mobility is continuously improving. I cannot express how important it is to do your mobility work. In my experience even a few days without it will cause setbacks. Even after a year, I still find the need to at lease roll my foot on a lacrosse ball everyday to help stretch it.
… this post is still in-progress as I go through my healing journey myself!
Shoutout to my grandma for encouraging me to write this. Love you. 📘