Can Physical Therapy Aid My Broken Ankle?

Physical therapy plays an essential role in the treatment and effective recovery of broken bones, which is particularly important with our weight-bearing bones in the feet, ankles, and legs. For example, the ankle allows us to move our feet up and down and side to side. Therefore, they need to be strong and mobile to carry us through life and keep us dancing!

A fracture in an ankle happens when a bone on a single or both sides of the body is partially or entirely broken due to any injury or fall. It’s common in sport (20%) – particularly contact sports like soccer and Rugby and in runners.

Men in the age group below 50 experience the most ankle fractures. But women above 50 fracture their ankles more than women below 50 years of age – third only to hip fractures and broken wrists in the same age group.

In all age groups, the kind of ankle fracture you have can differ from simple to complex. They involve one or all three of your ankle bones – the tibia, fibula, or talus. However, there are lots of variations and categorizations to describe specific ankle injuries and the number of bones involved.

Which one have you got?

  • Lateral Malleolus Fracture: When the outer bone of the ankle – the fibula, is broken.
  • Medial Malleolus Fracture: When the inner bone of the ankle called (the tibia) is broken.
  • Bi-Malleolar Fracture: When both bones, the tibia, and fibula break.
  • Trimalleolar Fracture: When the tibia, the fibula, and the posterior malleolus are broken.

…and how severe is the break?

We categorize the severity of ankle fractures as the following:

  • Nondisplaced: The parts of the fractured bone remain in their original position.
  • Displaced: The fractured bone parts move out of their original position.
  • Comminuted: Multiple pieces of broken bone or splinters of the bone occur at the fractured site.
  • Complex Fracture: Along with the bone break, the adjacent soft tissue is also damaged.
  • Compound Fracture: This type of injury involves multiple bones that move out of position and may even pierce the skin. It needs immediate medical attention and carries an additional risk of severe infection.

What Are The Symptoms Of An Ankle Bone Fracture?

When you fracture your ankle, you may experience:

  • Severe pain after a fall or twisting that is immediate
  • A snap or pop sound the moment the injury happens
  • The ankle begins to swell
  • Apart from pain, there is tenderness in the ankle region
  • Difficulty in walking or standing on the injured ankle
  • Unable to bear any weight on the injured ankle
  • Bluish blackish bruising in the ankle area
  • The pain reduces with rest and increases with activity
  • Unable to wear any footwear on the injured leg

How Is An Ankle Fracture Diagnosed?

When you consult a doctor when you have an ankle injury, they will want to know how you injured the ankle. First, they’ll take your complete medical history.

They will then observe your walk (if possible). Next, they will examine the ankle for swelling, tenderness, and bruising and confirm if you can bear any weight on the ankle while walking or standing. If they suspect an ankle fracture at this point, they will request an X-ray for confirmation of their suspicions.

They may also recommend a consult with an orthopedic surgeon for evaluation if the break is severe.  Sometimes, an ankle sprain can present with similar symptoms to an ankle fracture, so that you may have a sprain and not a break. But the X-ray will confirm whether any type of fracture is present.

The treatment for your ankle fracture depends on the number of broken bones and the kind of fracture. But, first, the bones are aligned in the correct position and stabilized by the physician in the ER. 

What Happens When Ankle Surgery Isn’t Required?

Once a doctor treats your initial injury and the bone heals, we (physical therapists) take over the treatment. We help with regaining strength in the injured ankle, movement, and balance to help you resume regular activities.

Once the ankle is in a boot or cast, we assist you in walking without bearing weight on the injury. We take complete care of all movements from sitting up in bed, getting up from a chair, standing, and walking.

What Happens After Ankle Surgery?

If you need surgery to repair your ankle, your doctor will initially stabilize your ankle in a boot or cast for the first few weeks after your operation.

After surgery, when you’re deemed medically fit to get out of bed and move around, a hospital physical therapist will visit you. They help you sit up and move from sitting to standing safely without putting too much weight through your ankle. They will typically tell you not to bear too much weight through the injured ankle for a couple of weeks after your surgery.

Once you’re stable enough on your feet, your PT will guide you on how to walk using a walker or crutches. Later, they will also teach you how to safely go up and downstairs while your ankle is out of action. After X-rays confirm that the bone has healed sufficiently, your doctor will remove the cast or boot. However, we recommend you continue with regular outpatient physical therapy until your ankle fully heals and we’re able to restore your normal mobility.

This type of post-surgery physical therapy includes:

  • Learning to walk: Your PT will guide you on balancing your weight without straining the ankle. From taking your first few steps after surgery all the way through until you’re using the foot and ankle normally again. 
  • Adopting the correct gait: Your PT will give you detailed instruction throughout the recovery stages – including adopting the proper gait (your pattern of walking). This part of your recovery process may include walking gently on a treadmill initially. Then, after a while, you’ll be able to go for short, gentle walks outdoors.
  • Decreasing swelling: After surgery, your ankle is likely to be swollen. We treat swelling and inflammation with various treatments, including massage, ice packs, compression wraps, and advising you to elevate the ankle when you’re resting at home.
  • Creating an exercise plan: Your PT will create a customized exercise plan and individualized recovery program to suit your specific needs.  
  • Help in gaining back ankle mobility: Your PT will use manual therapy and therapeutic exercises to help improve your foot and ankle mobility. This treatment also extends to any other joints which may have been implicated in the initial injury and become stiff and tight or likewise because of the subsequent surgery.
  • Specific activity training: Once we restore the flexibility and strength in your ankle, we recommend activity-based training to suit your typical daily routine, hobbies, and profession.

Have You Broken Your Ankle?

If you’ve recently broken your ankle and you’re either sitting in a cast waiting for it to heal or had ankle surgery, we would love to help you. Your ankle will heal. That’s a given – the human body is impressive.

Still, when left to its own devices without the support of a physical therapist, your body doesn’t always get it right. Sometimes, it overcompensates with scar tissue – which we can help you mobilize. Other complications, like a limp or joint stiffness, can affect your future mobility and impair your quality of life.

Without physical therapy, you’re potentially leaving yourself wide open for chronic pain, future injuries, and more surgeries due to potential weakness around the ankle joint.

Please don’t leave it to chance.

Physical therapy after an ankle fracture helps you restore the function of the joint to its pre-break state as quickly as possible. It prevents weakness from developing in or around the joint. In addition, it allows you to strengthen the surrounding muscles to prevent future injuries.

We also help you speed things along so that you can get back to work, sports, and your everyday life as quickly as possible.

We’re an outpatient orthopedic and sports medicine clinic. So we’ve seen a lot of ankle injuries, so, whether you’re an athlete who wants to get back on the field after a nasty tackle.

A retiree that injured your ankle gardening or playing golf. We have the experience, quality of care, and specialized equipment to help you get back on your feet with a strong, mobile, and pain-free ankle joint.

To book your free consultation with a Physical Therapist at Intecore Physical Therapy, please complete the form below. We’ll get back to you right away. We will explain the services we offer to help you after an ankle fracture; please complete the form here.

Andrew Vertson