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Broken ankle, Phase III: Getting back to normal

This entry was posted on Monday, October 17th, 2016 by Frances Ryan.
Tags: walking, stubborn, sports, running, lessons, health, goals, fear, broken ankle

It has now been 12 weeks since I broke my ankle, and I’m pleased to say that I am well on the road to recovery. Though, sadly, I am not back to normal. Yet. However, I am now into the next phase of the healing process, so I expect to get back to normal… eventually. (Eventually, but not soon enough for my impatient nature.)

(Don’t worry: Now that Phase III has begun—which will be a long, slow process—I will stop sharing regular ankle updates. No more bi-weekly reflections; no more ankle-specific posts. Well, until or unless something significant happens or I decide to share a final missive once all of the swelling has gone away, which will be months from now. But I digress…)

To recap the journey so far, Phase I was the initial six weeks after the break. I spent those first six weeks relatively immobile, wearing a walking boot all the time—except for when bathing or sleeping. Phase II was weeks 7-12. Those six weeks were spent strengthening my ankle and calf muscle, whilst decreasing my use of the walking boot until I was able to walk unaided. (Links to the nitty-gritty bi-weekly updates are at the end of this post, if you need more than that brief recap.)

I am beginning the most exciting part of this journey: Broken ankle, Phase III: Getting back to normal.

Unlike the first two phases, Phase III doesn’t have a real timeline or an end date. Instead, it will be a long process that takes as long as it takes. Although, because I am generally a fairly active person it might take a bit longer for me to get back to full power (and full marathon-running ability!). At the same time, however, going into the break with a fairly healthy body in the first place will also speed things up, in some aspects. So Phase III may be longer or shorter or both… depending on which bits of normalcy I’m using as a benchmark.

It’s a bit of a challenge because I honestly don’t know how long it will take for my ankle and the rest of my body to be strong enough for different activities. So I’ve decided to set myself some relatively simple goals in between now and the end of the year, which is about 11 weeks away. This way, I have something to work towards and it might help me to better understand how long other goals will take.

The goals I’ve chosen to start with might be relatively easy to reach, meaning I’ll be able to push even further than hoped. However, I would rather set realistic and simple goals than to push myself too hard too soon, meaning that my healing takes even longer. (See that? I’m trying to be sensible. It’s not an easy thing for me to do!)

So, my goals are simple:

  1. Be able to fully flex my ankle.
  2. Be able to walk (comfortably) in high heels.
  3. Be able to run a 5k.

To be honest, I don’t know if this will be possible. But I won’t know if I don’t try. I do know that it will be a bit of a “sore” goal as working on flexibility means I have to intentionally put myself in pain. Not a lot of pain though; more of a discomfort. I also have to work to find a balance between pushing myself to stretch a bit further for the benefits it will provide, yet not pushing myself so far that I am causing damage. Yes, it’s a balancing act!

The second goal is a bit frivolous, I know. But I like to wear high heels on occasion and I figure that it might be a great way to help with the flexibility work, too. Of course, my idea of heels is far, far more sensible than most of the women I know, but they are still heels which is still a risk. Not only is there a risk of injury because of an unstable ankle, but there’s also the issue of swelling which may (or may not) be exacerbated because of the silly shoe choice. But I’m not looking to walk far in them, or to wear them all day. I just want to be able to change into them at the office and manage a standard work day in them. (It will be a while before I’m wearing them for an all-day event that includes a lot of standing.)

The last goal sounds really easy, but I have a feeling it will be really hard. Not only because I will have to slowly build up my ankle’s ability to run, but also because my lungs and my legs have not run in three months’ time. And that means that they will be a bit unhappy about being made to work again. But I have a little over ten weeks to build up to running a 5k. And it may be a very slow 5k, but at least I will do it!

I did manage to do a bit (a very, very little bit!) of running this morning. It didn’t hurt (much), in part because I ran for less than a minute and in part because I took it very carefully. But whilst it didn’t hurt (much), there was a very odd sensation in my ankle, which I think might turn to a painful sensation when I run a bit longer and/or further.

Ultimately, I would like to have full strength and flexibility back to my ankle before the end of winter. I would also like to see my overall strength and fitness levels back to a healthy level. This way, I can be ready to do some serious running in the spring and summer. I worry, however, that I will be a little too cautious about my ankle, which might slow me down. (I had the same issue after a severe sprain in the same ankle many, many years ago.) I think that my confidence will need to build up slowly (along with my strength)—I just don’t know how slow slowly is! (And I am a bit impatient!)

But as they say, time heals all wounds. However, I fear that this wound will take much, much more time than I had thought. I know it sounds silly, but when the doctor said I would be healed and able to run (gently) in 12 weeks’ time, I thought that meant that I’d be healed in 12 weeks’ time. But I’m now entering week 13 and I am still feeling a bit of pain. And I am still experiencing a bit (a lot?) of swelling.

That pain and swelling worries me a bit, but I don’t know how worried I should be—or when I need to consult with a doctor. Do I need to just suck it up and realise that I will never be fully healed? Or is there actually a timeframe that I can look at for 100% healing? And is there a point in time when I need to get a medical professional involved with the post-Phase II healing and recovery portion? And what is that point?

I suppose I’ll know the answers to these worries as I begin to get back to normal. Normal. What is that? And how do I get there? Well, I suppose I’ll find out when (and if) I come to the end of Phase III.

Wish me luck!

To read more about my progress, follow the links below:
I am broken
Two weeks broken
Four weeks broken
Six weeks broken
Broken ankle, Phase II: Learning to walk again
Eight weeks broken
Ten weeks broken
Twelve weeks broken
Broken ankle, Phase III: Getting back to normal


“Though, sadly, I am not back to normal.” I’m assuming you mean “normal” for you - it would be our loss if you became “normal” like the rest of us…

by Cheeky Boy at 1:57pm (GMT) on October 17th, 2016

No one is normal in the way that they think normal means. We’re all freaks and geeks and weirdos in our own way. “Normal” merely means you are the person that feels normal to you. :)

by Just Frances at 4:54am (GMT) on October 19th, 2016

Thank you for sharing your experiences.  I fell down a flight of stairs mid-February of this year.  ER doctor was not sure if I had broken the ankle or if it was just a type 3 sprain.  She put me in a walking cast similar to yours, gave me some crutches and told me no weight on it until I could see an orthopaedic surgeon (ten days). What a nightmare!  Specialist at first visit said it was just a sprain and that I was to continue wearing boot and see him in three weeks for a follow up.  Follow up X-rays now confirm that ER doctor was correct. There was a chip fracture, sounding very much like what you’ve experienced.  Four weeks in,  I’m now allowed to go without the boot, but must wear either a snug pair of winter boots or a good hard soled shoe.  Ortho guy isn’t very good at giving advice.  I am doing as you did, small doses without the boot only.  Your posts have been most helpful.  Thanks again for sharing!

by Fay at 6:47pm (GMT) on March 29th, 2018

Hi, Fay. Thank you for your comment. I am sorry for my delay in reply, but I’ve been a bit busy with my PhD in recent weeks.

I am pleased to hear that you’re managing to walk without the boot. The healing process can be slow, but as long as you don’t push yourself too far, too fast, you should be OK.

It will be two years this summer since my break and I am really mostly OK. I run and walk and jump—all without pain or trouble. I have, however, noticed a slight aching when I get really cold and wet. So a couple of times when I’ve had to walk quite far in the snow without proper footwear, I was in the slightest amount of discomfort. Of course, that could just be old age or my mind playing tricks on me!

Still… I hope you are healing well and that you can get back to your normal activity levels soon!


by Just Frances at 9:37am (GMT) on April 17th, 2018

Hi Frances and thank you for your encouraging words! Also congrats on working toward the Ph.D.  I broke my ankle skating - tibia and fibula both - surgery, plate and pins - on February 11th this year so that puts me at week 11.  Am doing recommended exercises and was quite active before, so like you I fantasized I would be much further along by now. Am walking short distances, somewhat slowed down, with only a bit of a hitch in my step and can now almost walk down stairs with weight equally on both feet.  But was running and skiing before all this so am worried.  Also love high heels for special occasions - argh!  Question - I end up quite swollen to mid-calf by the end of each day - it goes down some each night but puffs up as soon as I am up and about - was there anything you found that helped with this, and, how long, if ever, did it take before all the swelling actually went away?  Thanks much for any insights! Dammy

by Dammy at 7:15pm (GMT) on April 19th, 2018

Hi, Dammy. Thank you for getting in touch. It sounds like your break was worse than mine, so my experiences won’t be overly relevant to you, but I’ll do my best…

First, the swelling. I lost quite a bit of muscle mass in my calf so didn’t really notice swelling there, but I experienced a lot of swelling in my ankle in the first several weeks—even after I was back to walking without a boot or a walking stick.

The swelling kept coming back for the first year, but I found that elevating throughout the day helped. Still, I felt that there was a wee swollen lump for some time. However, part of me wonders if that was part of the bone remodeling stage, which can last for several years with very severe breaks. Either way, elevating during the day might help.

As for heels… I found that I needed to re-train my ankle for high heels (“high” for me is only 2 inches). I brought heels into the office and wore them for short bursts during the day. The heels forced my ankle into an angled position which was an odd sensation for a while. However, by walking in heels a bit each week, I was flexing my ankle which helped. (I am now back to wearing heels as normal—including running for buses in them.) I note that my heels are more Mary-Jane style, rather than spikes. Spindly heels might be harder to manage post-injury.

It will take time, but as long as you don’t push yourself too hard, too fast, I’m sure you’ll be hitting the slopes before long!!

Best of luck to you!!

by Just Frances at 7:50pm (GMT) on April 20th, 2018

HI Frances, Thanks so much for sharing your ankle experience. I am on week 7 and have found your blog very helpful. Best wishes, Phoebe

by Phoebe at 3:45pm (GMT) on August 2nd, 2018

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