An ankle fracture, commonly known as a broken ankle, involves any type of break or crack, often caused by a sports injury or a fall, in the tibia, fibula, or talus. This injury can include injury to one or more of the bones that make up the ankle joint. The more bones that are broken, the more complicated and severe the fracture is. Treatment for a broken ankle depends on the type and severity of the individual fracture, but may include wearing a cast or brace, applying ice and taking anti-inflammatory medication. Stable fractures can usually heal on their own within a few weeks, while more complicated ones may require surgery to reposition the broken bone.
Although the methods used to treat ankle fractures vary, rehabilitation is always necessary after the initial treatment, to restore full movement and mobility to the ankle and help the patient return to all usual activities. After the ankle bone has healed from the initial treatment for the fracture, and patients can bear weight on the joint, a physical therapy regimen is implemented to strengthen muscles and increase mobility. Without proper rehabilitation, complications such as chronic pain, inflammation and weakness may cause difficulty walking and performing physical activities.
Nonsurgical Rehabilitation for Ankle Fracture
If the ankle fracture does not require surgery, it is often treated with a cast or removable brace, and patients are typically advised not to put any weight on the ankle for about 6 weeks. A physical therapist will help the patient to walk safely using crutches or a walker, or another assistive device. Once the cast or brace has been removed and patients can begin moving the ankle, physical therapy and home exercise are extremely important for a full recovery. Physical therapy treatments may include:
- Muscle-strengthening exercises
- Gradual weight-bearing activities
- Range-of-motion exercises
- Balance training
Depending on the patient‘s physical job requirements or athletic activities, a physical therapist may create a tailored treatment plan. Recovery times vary for each patient, but most individuals can return to all normal activities within 3 to 4 months.
Rehabilitation After Ankle Fracture Surgery
Rehabilitation after ankle fracture surgery is often a slow and cautious process. After surgery, the ankle is put in a cast or set in a brace for about 6 weeks. A physical therapist works with the patient to make sure that he or she is using crutches safely. The patient may not be able to bear weight on the ankle for up to 12 weeks. Initial physical therapy treatments may focus on controlling pain and swelling with the use of ice or electrical stimulation treatments. Massage may also be used to ease muscle pain.
Physical therapy exercise treatments focus on improving range of motion without putting excessive strain on the healing bone or ligaments. As the ankle heals, muscle-stengthening exercises, range-of-motion exercises and balance training may all be used to increase movement and mobility. Full recovery after ankle fracture surgery may take up to 6 months.