Broken Ankle Experience – Part 1 of 5

As I started my day today, I swung my bare feet to the floor, stood up and walked towards the bathroom.  That’s right, I said, I walked towards the bathroom in my bare feet.  That simple occurrence, which we do all day long, placing one foot in front of the other, is something I will never take for granted again.

On December 1st, 2011, I broke my ankle (see http://wp.me/p1le37-6Z).  I was lucky because I had neatly snapped the bone and I didn’t need surgery to put it back together.   All I needed was to keep my foot immobile so the bone could heal on its own.  It’s amazing what our body can do all by itself.  Anyway, I was one of the lucky people, but I didn’t feel so lucky.  There were doctor visits, and x-rays, and dealing with a splint, cast, crutches, and being stuck in the house, and not being able to work, and more.  There were things the doctors/assistants told me and things they didn’t.  I’m sharing my journey, as it happened to me.  If you are in a similar situation, you may or may not experience the same issues I did, but it’s good to know what to really expect.

The day of the incident:  I was in the small area of woods behind my house when the accident happened, only about 20 or 30 feet from my back door.  I heard the snap, and I fell down on the front of my body.  SMASH!  Funny thing is, important things really do seem to happen in slow motion!  It probably only took a second of time between the time I broke my bone and the time I landed on the ground.  In that time, I remember thinking, “Oh $hit, I think I just really messed up my leg,”, and I thought, “Oh, no, Halo [our Siberian Husky] is still attached to me”, and I remember thinking “I wonder if I can stand back up” and next thing I knew, I hit the ground.  I lay there for a short while, perhaps 15-30 seconds, just feeling.  I felt the wind knocked out of me.  I felt the ache in my leg.  I heard our dog panting.  I tried to stand up, but it was too painful, so I butt-scooted my way back to the house and up the stairs and inside.  I put my leg up and put ice on it and stayed like that until it was evident this wasn’t a little sprain and I needed to get checked out.   I went to the hospital where they X-rayed me, realized I had indeed broken my bone (the fibula) and they put a temporary splint on me, with instructions to go see the orthopedic doctor that they recommended.

ouchWeek One:  During the first week, I had to get used to using crutches and maneuvering around my home.  I also had to get my splint replaced on day five with a cast.

So here’s how the first week went:

First, the splint was intended to keep the bone from moving, but it wasn’t snug on my leg, so there was some movement.  The first time I had to go somewhere in a vehicle, I put the heel of my broken foot on the floorboard, with my leg extended.  That was a mistake.  Every time the vehicle hit any kind of bumpiness in the road, the splint shifted just slightly and the still broken ankle hurt.  So I learned to keep my foot totally off the floor at the beginning.  I would either place my foot in the way I just described, but hold it slightly above the floor anytime the road got bumpy.  Or I could cross it over my good foot, which muffled the vibrations somewhat.  Or I could put it on a pillow, which helped slightly.  So remember, in the beginning, it’s easy to jar your foot, which is not going to be very comfortable.

Second, I had to learn to use crutches (see  http://wp.me/p1le37-71  for more information).  This isn’t really as easy, or as difficult, as you might think.  But I fell when I was going to the car after the hospital, and I fell twice more in the first week.  Crutch use is definitely a skill that needs to be learned.  First, the crutches have got to be at the right length for you, and second, you have to give yourself some time to strengthen your muscles.  I’m 5’4”, but I found the best setting for me was at the 5’5” mark.  Experimentation is required – don’t just use what is set when you get the crutches.  Make sure they are really working for you.  Then, learn how to use them!  I put the crutches under my arms, so they were an inch or so below my armpit so there wouldn’t be any chafing.  The crutches were angled slightly away from my body at the bottoms, and I would keep my good leg flat on the ground, then would move the crutches a step forward.  Then I would move my good leg a step forward while keeping my bad leg angled off the ground.  This meant both arms were holding the weight of my entire body and had to become stronger, and it meant my good leg was also holding the weight of my entire body, and it meant my “bad” leg had to constantly be bent so my broken ankle would not touch the ground.  Since the cast was somewhat heavy, the muscles in my “bad” leg also had to be strengthened.  Needless to say, the first week I did a lot of sitting because I was somewhat shaky when moving around.

Third, I had to get the splint replaced by a cast.  This wasn’t really difficult, but was definitely uncomfortable.  First, the splint was removed and my foot was exposed to the air.  It felt great, even though it had only been five days that my leg was encased.  My foot was bruised and swollen.  As I sat there on the doctor’s table with my broken, swollen ankle exposed, I realized how much it was throbbing and I really wanted the cast on so I wouldn’t accidentally hit it on something or turn it somehow.

The physician’s assistant (PA) came in to put on the cast.  Today’s casts are made out of fiberglass, and come in many different colors.  I was able to pick from red, blue, yellow and assorted other colors, but I chose black.  First, the PA put cotton-like material on my leg, from about 4 inches under my knee to the middle of the arch on my foot.  Then he took the fiberglass, which looks like a roll of material, and he wet it.  Then he rolled it around my foot first, then the ankle, then my leg until the area was completely covered.  What is important to realize if you’re going to be having this done is that the fiberglass must be tight so your foot won’t move while it’s healing.  This means the PA pushed the sides of the fiberglass into my ankle so the area around my ankle would be tight.  Well, my ankle was broken and swollen so that was a bit painful.  Also, my foot had to be bent at a right angle when they put the cast on, so the muscles would allow me to stand when the cast eventually came off.  This too was a bit uncomfortable, since the PA kept pushing the ball of my foot up towards my body.  OUCH.  Anyway, it only took 15 or so minutes for the cast to be on and dry, and I was able to pick up my crutches and hobble out.  But be ready for some discomfort during this process (take some pain relievers with you).

At this appointment, I was told that between 2-4 weeks after the first cast was put on, I may be able to put on a boot which would allow more movement of my foot.  I left with an appointment in 2 weeks for a follow-up and hope this process wouldn’t take very long.

Fourth, I had to figure out how to take a shower and do other normal things while using crutches and a cast.  I did not have this all figured out by the end of the first week, so in my next edition, I’ll share how it’s possible to take a shower without getting your cast wet, how to get coffee from point A to point, how the cast/boot process went, how to work while disabled, and more coping strategies.

Following are all my ankle related blogs:

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45 thoughts on “Broken Ankle Experience – Part 1 of 5

  1. I just broke my ankle while on vacation in Bali and initially thought it was sprained….and was walking on it for a week (not full weight). When I came home I immediately had an xray and luckily nondisplaced fibula fracture and no surgery. I just came across you story and appreciate your info. Just in case others come to this site, I highly recommend the dry pro waterproof cover for casts. http://www.drycorp.com/
    This is a life saver! Thanks

  2. Thank you for all the info and advice. I broke my ankle in three places and dislocated on Oct. 13. On Oct. 16 I had surgery 6 screws and 1 plate. Splint for 1 week, cast for 4 weeks. I am now in boot allowing 33 percent weight with crutches for 2 weeks. Next wednesday I start 50 percent weight for 2 more weeks. Dr orders. On Dec 20th i go back to Dr. Do you think I will start walking without crutches and with boot? My dilema is I maybe going to Las Vegas on Jan 9tn. Will I be without the boot by tnen? Should I go?

    • Mary – I’m glad this was useful information! It sounds as though you are healing nicely, and by 12/20 you will have been walking with 50% for two weeks (although I’m not sure how that works). Only you will know how you feel, but if it were me, I would go anyway to Vegas but would just be prepared that I might not be able to walk that easily. Either way, Vegas is a gamble! 🙂 It would be fun.

  3. I love this article….i just did the exact same thing to my ankle …i’m in a splint right now and was wondering if you felt pain in one spot ..around the area it broke at..like theres a knot and the hard part of the splint presses against it..?? It only hurts so much when im in the standing position…any advice?

    • Natalie – Thanks so much for writing. I don’t remember having pain in one spot – it was more of an overall ache everywhere. I actually thought it hurt more when they took the cast OFF – the muscles get really tight and it hurts to move them. Anyway, just give it some time. Believe it or not, eventually, it will be as though you never broke it at all! If you would like to send me a private message with specific questions, feel free to write to me at kam903@aol.com. Take care!!!!

  4. I broke my fibula July 14, 2013 from a bicycle fall. I had surgery on July 16, 5 screws and a plate. I have been following your very accurate description on what to expect. I do have a suggestion that is helping me recover and wish I had found out about it sooner…..get an aircast cryo cup or similiar for cold and compression. It helps a GREAT deal! The sooner you start, the less the swelling. I am in my first week of physical therapy where I found out about the cryo cup. I wish I had know about it sooner. They say the sooner you use it the better even over cast or post op dressing. Hope this helps others with dreaded injury….

    • Ken – Thank you so much for that tip! I hadn’t heard of this and it hadn’t been recommended to me when I was dealing with my broken ankle, but I just looked it up on line and I wish I had known about it also.. It sounds like a great way to reduce swelling and pain. Best wishes to you.

  5. I fractured my right ankle playing Pickleball 4 weeks ago,am wearing inflatible Air Cast Boot,have started limited driving,etc. and go back to Ortho Dr. Nov.4th.I enjoyed your tips,etc.Any feedback would be appreciated.Thanks and good luck !!

    • Benjamin –

      What’s pickleball?

      Wow, you can drive already! That is awesome – it was 2 or 3 months before I could do that. If you’re already driving, you must be doing pretty well. Can you do exercises yet, or are you supposed to wait until after Nov 4th? That’s really the time everything starts drastically improving.

      Best wishes.

      • Pickelball is kinda like tennis,table tennis,etc. combined.You can Google it or watch on You Tube !!I only drive short distances as I have “The Boot” on…Nov.4th will tell the rest !!!!

  6. So nice..and a comprehensive writeup cum guide material.. I enjoyed reading it…besides the valuable tips..coz…I broke my distal fibula on the right leg in a motor cycle accident..a spiral fracture just above ankle joint..on September 1st…the byke tripped on sand spilled on asphalt road.. 6 weeks in crepe bandage and ankle brace..NWB what so ever.. The doc pronounced it healed on 12-Oct-2013.. Presently going through rehab.. PWB…True..the cast off phase is worse than the immobilised phase… Would like to have some more tips relevant to this phase…Thanks Kathy..for the immaculate prose..I wish I could write my experience too as I return to normalcy..
    !!!

    • Now who put sand on the asphalt? Yikes!

      In some ways being immobilized is a little easier – it doesn’t hurt as much and there’s little chance of making the injury worse. However, the cast off phase at least means you’re on the way to healing. I hope you’re not swollen so at least that’s not slowing down healing.

      Best wishes.

  7. Oh my gosh! I am so happy to have found your blog! I broke my ankle one week ago, and just got my hard (fiberglass) cast today. Luckily, it was a “clean break” of my fibula (right ankle), so no surgery. I am just now beginning to realize how limiting this is, how long it will take to recover, and how much I am going to be missing out on in the next few weeks (Christmas shopping, Christmas parties, volunteer work, our annual trip to see the Packers at Lambeau Field, etc.). I’m glad to know that my frustration and depression are normal. It is also helpful to know that some of the things I’m experiencing (muscles hurting that never hurt before, trouble managing the simplest household chores, struggling with hygiene issues) are normal in this situation. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us,

    • Keep your head up Alli D,I am recovering from my broken right ankle(at 7 week mark) and am free of AirCast Boot(which I wore for first 6 weeks) !!
      Now I just have an Ace ankle stabilizer on and can drive,walk around,etc.!!It does get better but I was very frustrated in the beginning.Good luck to you !!

    • Alli –

      I agree with Benjamin, it does get better!

      My break happened before the Christmas holidays also, and I ordered all my Christmas gifts from the internet. And decorating a tree? Wow, that was a pain in the butt!

      Perhaps you can go see the Packers and use the handicapped seating? I bet they have special seats for people who can’t get around!!!!

      Frustration and depression are definitely normal, so just hang in there. Sending you hugs.

      Kat

  8. Great blog and wished I had found it earlier! I slid and fell when hiking causing a nondisplaced distal fib fracture then hiked almost 4 miles out to trailhead. No surgery just aircast, this happened 4 weeks ago. A week ago I got greenlight to wean off crutches and walk on cast. I’m pretty much down to 1 crutch walking, get tired and feel awkward and sore but no real pain. Needed reassurance and really liked your section on crutch wean-Thanks!

    • Wow, Maureen, I have thought about that often- what if I broke my ankle while on one of my hikes. That would have been tough.
      That’s awesome that you have no real pain and are already on one crutch only. You’re doing great!

  9. Kat,
    Thank you so much for your inciteful, informative blogs. I am much older than you, in my early 70’s and have never before been in a cast, So my perspective is from a different generation – some problems, same issues. I just broke my left ankle just over one week ago while vacationing at my daughter’s country home in CT and slipping on an icy step! My experience was almost identical to yours at the ER, except it was impossible for me to navigate the crutches, so a walker was given to me and the hospital loaned us a wheelchair for a few days. Pain was manageable with Advil. Three days later, my husband and I had to fly back home to South Florida. The airline was wonderful in arranging a wheelchair at both ends, and as you mentioned, just make arrangements with special services in advance. Since I still work in healthcare, I had my office schedule an ortho appointment the next day with a group right across the hall from our practice. Once again, same scenario, with the exception of choosing the Pantone color for 2015, burgundy (merlot) for the cast! There isn’t a wall or piece of furniture that doesn’t possess some mark from my engineering around the house with the wheelchair. My husband has been great, but I can see that this is taking a toll on him, with getting me over the one-step into and out of our house, placing wheelchair in car, helping to get things I just can’t reach and to get my pants pulled up! So far this week, I managed to get my haircut, nails done, join friends to celebrate my husband’s birthday – today I am paying for all this activity. I will attempt to go into my office tomorrow and take over one of the sitting positions, short week due to closing office end of week for Christmas. The best advice I can give at this early stage of “my adventure” is to not over do it, think what you will need for whatever function you need to do, try to ask for help with the important things, get plenty of sleep (which I know from medical training) does help the healing process, even if you don’t feel up to it, catch up with friends through phone, email, texting, makes the time go faster and really does make you feel better, even it means listening to their “tales of woe”.

    • Ronni-

      Wow, you rock! You are on top of your temporary inability to live life the way you normally do, and you’ve made a bunch of adjustments to get stuff done anyway. And you have a great attitude!

      You’re so right that not overdoing things, and planning what you’ll need for any function you need to complete, and asking for help and sleeping and keeping busy in whatever way you can are all definitely key to getting through this period without too much stress.

      I love the burgundy choice for your cast!

      Best wishes for your continued recovery.

      Kat

  10. Hey Kat! I’m from Malaysia and just wanted to thank you for your very insightful and helpful blog posts 🙂 I just broke my left fibula and displaced my ankle a week ago (which required surgery to fix as they put in a metal plate and 6 screws) and am also currently in a splint, but I assume the healing and rehab process should be the same as yours. I’m only on week 1 and I already feel restless from not being able to do the things I want to do and travel to the places I want to go, especially since it’s so close to Christmas and New Year’s! I also give you props for being relatively active during your healing stages as you still try to cook! At what point did you stop resting at home so much and started going out with crutches?

    All I’ve been doing is staying in bed for the past week. But I guess it is because I have stairs in my home and being upstairs in my room is more convenient for me however all the food is downstairs and I had my family bring it up for me, but I guess they can’t bring it up for me every day for the next few months! Did you have stairs in your home and did you stay up/downstairs?

    Also when did you start driving by your own? I feel like I want to get out of the house soon and I’ve read your post about driving, but I can’t see where I’m going to put my left foot while I drive without giving it any shock to be honest.

    Okay last question! What foot exercises did your doctor recommend you to do in the first few weeks of healing while you were in the cast? Thank you! 🙂

    • Carmen-

      Hello to you in Malaysia!!

      This is a very hard time of the year to be in a cast and immobile – but just think that next year you’ll be able to do all your normal things. You should have seen me trying to decorate the tree. What a funny sight that must have been. Anyway, just know this is all temporary. I stayed in the house almost all the time for the first month or so because it was just too much trouble to go anywhere and it was winter time with snow and ice and I was just afraid of falling.

      I had some stairs in my house, but there was a railing on one side, and I finally figured out how to hop down and up safely. It took a lot of practice. Before that I was just going down on my butt.

      As for your other questions, I did not drive while I had my cast on. I had to wait until it was off, and until I could put pressure on it, and until I felt strong enough to stamp on the pedals if I had to. That’s because it was might right ankle. Because it’s your left ankle, perhaps you could drive as soon as you can put your cast down without feeling pain. Maybe a few weeks? I do know other people with a cast on their left ankle/foot who drove.

      I also didn’t do ANY therapy/exercises while the cast was on. I had to wait until the cast was off. The waiting was very tedious but eventually it ended.

      Hugs!
      Kat

  11. I’m glad I came across this site. I just broke my ankle a week ago. I was wondering anyone. Has a burning and vibration in they ankle. If so what does that mean

    • Hi Patricia —

      I don’t remember a vibration but perhaps someone else will be able to weigh in. Does it hurt? If yes, I’d probably give the doctor a call just to make sure there’s nothing to worry about.

      Best wishes!
      Kat

  12. I broke my ankle on Feb 27 2015 – and I too had a burning sensation for a couple of weeks. I am now in a aircast boot, and am having physio shortly. I saw the consultant a couple of days ago, and was pleasantly surprised when I was told he didn’t think he needed to see me again – as it was only a day short of three weeks ! The whole experience is a dreadful process – and I wish everyone a speedy recovery !

    • Thanks for sharing! Hopefully Patricia will feel better knowing she’s not the only one with a burning sensation.

      That’s wonderful that you are having physio already and you don’t need to see the consultant. You are rocking the process!

  13. Thanks so much for this blog. I broke my ankle 10 days ago and am splinted, housebound and am using a walker. I fell this morning and am totally discouraged – reading your blog and everyone’s post has helped immensely. I never thought an accident like this would be so debilitating. I am looking forward to a month from now!
    Christine

    • Christine –
      Keep your eye on the future! Having a broken ankle is really quite frustrating and annoying, and there are days where it seems like it’ll never be better, but it will.
      Best wishes!
      Kat

  14. As of this Friday coming that will be my 2weeks up taking my splint off walking around the house on my fractured ankle and so far so good! So now on Friday I will be able to walk to the shop and back once a day for another 2weeks and see how that goes! Looking forward to it.

  15. Tried walking a couple of times outside today without the splint and so far so good! IF anything I think it’s making my ankle a tad stronger.

    • Dominique –

      Good morning. I hated it too! Believe me though when I tell you that it won’t always suck. Eventually you will be able to put weight on your foot, and eventually you will be walking again. It does suck now but there truly is light at the end of the tunnel.

      Hang in there,
      Kat

  16. Thank You for these great blog post! My breaks even worse than yours. I have leg, ankle and foot breaks and had to have surgery. 😦 But still very similar to your story. I do have a wonderful wife taking care of me every step of the way which helps extremely.
    Also, I find praying to the good Lord all mighty every night helps!
    I can not wait to read the rest of your story!

  17. Hi everyone, just read all the info, really made me feel more hopeful, i missed the last 2 steps coming down stairs and broke a bone in my right ankle (fibula),I’m in cast upto my knee,and been upstairs on bed resting, eating meals since Monday, the boredom is awful,I’m a 58yr old who is always on the go etc. Today Saturday I’ve started getting the burning sensation down my leg when I put it down from elevated level, I can only describe it like someone pouring boiling water down for about a minute, then it goes off. Phoned hospital, they say it normal, and try to still move about, but do NOT put any weight on leg, keep mobile and rest often,they say it’s the blood rushing down to healing area and swelling, and it will get better. Nobody else has mentioned this, but I have been put on fragmin and have to inject myself each day, to keep blood thinner, don’t know if that contributes to the burning sensation. It does seem like a long haul ahead, but keep reminding myself it could be worse,seems like I’m wishing the next 6weeks away.Everyone with a broken ankle, keep your chins up and just think it’s not forever x

    • Anne-

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your current situation. I don’t remember a burning sensation, but I wouldn’t be surprised; it seems all sorts of strange things can be associated with a broken ankle! Just keep doing what the hospital told you (no weight) and hopefully it will improve soon. It does feel like a long haul while you’re dealing with the cast and immobility but it truly won’t be forever. Hugs to you!

      Kat

    • Anne, I am 2 weeks out on breaking my distal fibula and I have that same issue. If I do not have my leg elevated above my heart, I get that burning sensation as my leg swells back up under the cast. I keep trying to get some things done around the house and even if I am sitting up in a wheelchair, I can only take the pain for a maximum of 15 minutes. When did this sensation stop for you?

  18. I just broke my ankle yesterday and I’m doing pretty good but I keep feeling stuff moving in my foot area is it okay or what?

  19. Thank you for writing this blog. I broke my tibia fibula and some other bone but luckily it was clean and they just yesterday decided I do not need surger and placed a cast on to replace the splint. It’s been a tough three weeks already and they say I can’t bear any weight for at least six more weeks. Can I ask you, how did you keep from gaining weight during that time? I’m so worried about this as I’m already about 25 lbs over weight. I’m in a wheelchair as I have always had balance issues and cannot do crutches very well. Right now EVERYTHING I do is huge effort. Wondering also how long it took you to be comfortable with your new disability. I’m at the frustrated point but trying to stay positive.

    • Rachel-

      Good morning! I’m sorry to hear you broke your ankle and have been having a tough time the last three weeks. It is good news that you won’t need surgery – one less thing to have to deal with!

      I was worried about gaining weight as well, and in fact I looked up exercises to do while recuperating but I wasn’t able to find anything that didn’t put pressure on my leg. So I just tried to stay out of the kitchen unless it was time to prepare food, and I made a point to pay attention to what I was eating. Once I was able to put weight on my ankle, I was walking everywhere and going up and down steps as exercise, so in the end, my weight stayed pretty even.Can you get one of the knee scooters? If so, you would probably use more energy/calories than you are in the wheelchair.

      I know this time can be frustrating, but you’ve made it through the initial break, and the first three weeks, and hopefully in six more you will be back on two feet. That means you are a third of the way to having use of both feet. I’m wishing you the best over the next month or two. This too shall end!

      Hugs,
      Kat

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