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Physical Therapy for Ankle Fracture – Information, Exercises, and More

You’ve broken your ankle. After weeks on crutches, and weeks in a cast, it’s time to hit the road to recovery.

But after staying off your ankle for so long, you may find you’re unable to jump back into regular activities even after you’ve tossed the crutches aside. 

While your bones may have healed, your ankle muscles, ligaments, and joints may need some help when it comes to regaining:

  • Strength
  • Range-of-motion
  • Balance

Physical therapy after ankle fracture is the best way to continue your healing process and get you back to your normal activities.

This guide walks you through your recovery after an ankle fracture, step-by-step.

What is an Ankle Fracture?

An ankle fracture, also known as a broken ankle, is a fracture or multiple fractures of one or more of three bones in the ankle joint:

  • Tibia (shinbone)
  • Fibula (outer ankle bone)
  • Talus (the bone that connects your leg to your foot)

Ankle fractures are painful and temporarily disabling. 

The seriousness of a broken ankle varies. Fractures can range from tiny stress fractures or cracks in your bones to compound breaks that pierce your skin.

What Causes an Ankle Fracture?

A broken ankle is usually a result of a twisting or rotating injury, but can also be caused by a direct blow to the ankle. 

Common causes include:

  • Missteps
  • Trips and falls
  • Sports injuries
  • Impact during a car accident

Symptoms You May Experience After an Ankle Fracture

Following your ankle fracture, your doctor will likely ask that you not put any weight on the injured foot. Using your ankle too soon may keep the bones from healing properly. 

The timeframe for no weight-bearing activity is typically 6 to 10 weeks, depending on the severity of the break. 

During this period you may be placed in or asked to use:

  • A splint
  • A hard cast
  • A walking boot
  • Crutches

But what about after the fracture in your ankle has healed?

When the cast comes off and you get the go-ahead to try walking again, a new phase of recovery begins. 

Smaller, Weaker Muscles

Once your bone has healed, you may notice your muscles are weaker and smaller. This is a direct result of not being used for several weeks.

Stiff Ligaments and Limited Range-of-Motion

When joints are immobilized for so long, stiffness will occur even once mobility is regained. You may notice you’re not able to move your ankle as easily as you were before the injury.

Treatments After an Ankle Fracture

To heal a broken ankle, a number of treatments may be required, including:

  • A walking boot, cast, or splint
  • The use of crutches
  • A reduction — This is a non-surgical procedure in which your doctor physically moves your bone back into place.
  • Surgery – Surgery may be necessary for severe ankle breaks.

Following initial treatment to heal the bone or bones, you may still need to employ a variety of therapies to return to normal activity.

These may include:

  • Medication
  • Support Devices
  • Physical Therapy

Medication

Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen and naproxen can help reduce swelling and pain in your ankle joint. 

Support Devices

In the immediate weeks following an ankle fracture, a splint, hard cast or walking boot may be necessary to keep your bones from moving.

However, even after the fracture has healed, your physician may recommend wearing an ankle brace for several months while participating in athletic activities.

Physical Therapy

After your broken bone has healed, the muscles and ligaments in your ankles and feet will likely be weak and stiff.
Physical therapy is the best way to improve strength and loosen up those muscles and ligaments that haven’t been used in a while.

Ankle Fracture Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

After a broken ankle, physical therapy is the best way to retrain your muscles and joints for activity and help prevent future injury.

A physical therapist can teach you exercises to improve your:

  • Range-of-Motion
  • Flexibility
  • Strength
  • Balance

Best Exercises After an Ankle Fracture

When you’re recovering from an ankle fracture, you can’t hop onto the treadmill or get back to your weekly tennis match immediately after your bone has healed.

Instead, you’ll need to start your return to activity slowly and under the care of a doctor or physical therapist.

They’ll create a plan specific to your injury and your healing goals.

They may also recommend elevating and icing your ankle after performing your prescribed exercise program.

Range-of-Motion Exercises

Once you’re out of your cast or ankle brace, the first thing you’ll need to work on is range-of-motion and mobility. Your muscles and ligaments will be stiff and tight after weeks or even months of immobility. 

Your physical therapist may use manual (hands-on) therapy to gently move your foot and ankle joints. 

Additionally, a few physical therapy exercises for ankle fracture your physical therapist may recommend specifically to improve range-of-motion include:

Ankle Alphabet 

  • Using the big toe and moving from the ankle joint, trace the alphabet.
  • Repeat for 5 minutes.
  • This exercise activates your ankle movement in all directions. 

Ankle Flex and Extend

  • Flex your foot toward you as far as you can. Hold for 10-15 seconds.
  • Then extend your foot away from you, pointing your toes. Hold for 10-15 seconds.
  • Repeat 10-15 times, twice a day.

Flexibility Exercises

Increasing flexibility is key after the ankle has been constricted for such a long period. Flexibility exercises assist in loosening tension in the ankle muscles, joints, and ligaments. 

This can be achieved through:

Strengthening Exercises

When you can put weight on your ankle without significant pain or swelling, your physical therapist will likely incorporate strengthening exercises into your routine. 

Balance Exercises

After a fracture, a weak ankle can translate to an unstable ankle. 

Single standing leg exercises on the affected ankle can help you regain balance and control. Consider using a chair for added stability as you start out.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Recovery After an Ankle Fracture

The physical therapists at In Motion O.C. are no strangers to ankle rehabilitation. 

We’ve helped hundreds of patients regain their strength, flexibility, and balance. As Yelp’s #1 Physical Therapist in the entire country, we can help you too. 

We’ll have you back on your feet in no time!

In Motion O.C.