Successful rehabilitation from a broken leg, or tibia/fibula fracture, involves several key, but simple components:
1) Do everything your doctor asks you to do and don’t do anything without making sure it is okay. Particularly in the early stages of healing your bone is still fragile and the body is busy with the healing process. Jumping into intense exercise early may cause a misalignment of the bone, or affect surgical fixation. Therefore, follow the rehabilitation timeline that your physician spells out. If you aren’t sure, please ask.
2) Control your pain. If your pain is not well-controlled, your recovery process will be miserable and exercises may be too difficult for you to perform. Ice is the best method for pain control. Apply for 20 minutes mulitple times throughout the day to reduce pain and inflammation. Next, elevate your leg whenever possible. Finally, if necessary, resort to taking pain medications as your doctor recommends. Always keep in mind that pain medications can cause serious liver, stomach, heart or kidney damage. Others can be addicting, so just be careful. Do not take them if you do not need them.
3) Commit to your workouts. Do your workouts everyday. Period. I know they seem simple and may be boring or seem unnecessarily repetitive, but they are designed to help you increase your strength, mobility, flexibility and overall function. A leg that is not used for weeks, secondary to injury, loses muscle and can become tight, or inflexible. Further, exercises can help to stimulate bone formation to fuel the healing process. Ask your doctor or therapist for exercises to do to help your specific fracture and do them religiously. After exercise, ice your leg immediately.
4) Continue working out the other leg. Research is showing that exercising the healthy leg can contribute to strength gains in the injured leg. Interestingly, exercising the healthy leg sends nerve signals to the brain that relay signals to the muscles in both legs that encourage growth and strength increases.
5) Eat a healthy diet. You can’t build a house without wood and brick. Similarly, you can’t rebuild a broken leg without proper nutrition. The optimal diet, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, recommends one-half a plate of fruits and vegetables, one-fourth a plate of whole grains and one-fourth a plate of a lean meat (prefereably fish or poultry). Shy away from the fats, sugary foods and junk foods. If you doctor approves, a multivitamin may also be useful.
Be patient, a broken leg can take 4 to 6 months to heal. Take care of yourself over these next few weeks. Making rehabilitating your leg a priority and before you know it you will be back on your feet!