Getting Back into Fitness After a Foot or Ankle Injury

Health Professional, Medical Reviewer
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Whether you suffer from a chronic condition that makes you more prone to foot and ankle injuries or you’re recovering from an elective surgery as a result of trauma to your foot or ankle, the process of maintaining fitness while you recover can be frustrating. I can certainly understand. I am currently recovering from a foot/ankle sprain and microfractures in three different joints — an injury I suffered during a fall while running three months ago. I know that when you’re used to being active, it’s hard to stay off of your feet, but allowing ample time for healing and recovery is critical in order to reduce your risk of re-injury. Here’s advice from both HealthCentral and rehabilitation specialists on how to make the most of your recovery.

Focus on new opportunities

Broken bones can heal in as little as six weeks, but if you are recovering from surgery, have sustained a sprain, or have a stress fracture, your recovery could take several months. My best advice is to stay positive — I feel that’s the key to a healthy recovery. Take time to focus on things that you may not normally focus on, like increasing your upper body strength through seated free-weight exercises, push-ups on your knees, or abdominal-strengthening exercises. People who typically run, walk, or cycle spend less time focusing on upper body exercises. I looked at my injury as an opportunity to work on upper body strengthening — something that I still needed to focus on after having rotator cuff repair on both shoulders years ago.

Stay active

If you have been told that you cannot bear weight on one of your feet, check with your doctor to see if you can swim or use a stationary bike. Both will enable you to maintain your cardiovascular fitness while not posing a risk of injury. I have grown to love swimming: You almost forget about your injury when you’re floating weightlessly in the water. You can walk on crutches straight to the poolside. Deep water jogging is also therapeutic and it’s a great way to get your legs working to prepare for running and walking once you recover. If you don’t have access to a pool, consider home exercise. I found a variety of fitness videos on YouTube geared toward patients recovering from lower-extremity surgery that can be done from a seated or lying position. As long as you are not bearing weight on your injured foot, there are various Pilates and yoga stretches you can do to help maintain your flexibility. If you are on crutches or in a boot, you likely feel lopsided and off-balance, so stretches feel great for your overworked uninjured side!

Rehabilitation helps to avoid future problems

Jeff Torockio, physical therapist and owner of Sport and Family Physical Therapy in Marriottsville, Maryland, offers this advice to patients with chronic disease or mobility problems that may put you at greater risk of injury: “Listen to your pain. Don’t wait until things become unbearable to report the problem to your healthcare provider. Pain means something … It should not be ignored.”

“I feel that good outcomes come from three things: a good doctor, a good therapist, and a good patient who is willing to comply with their prescribed treatment,” Torockio says. “Going to physical therapy two to- three times a week is not enough to maximize your recovery. You need to do your prescribed exercises at home in order to regain strength and flexibility and to reduce your risk of re-injury.”

The bottom line

Recovery from an injury or surgery can be a long and tough process. With patience, a positive attitude, and a strong rehabilitation program, you will be able to maintain your level of fitness and may even come out of this process a stronger, more physically fit person. Don’t ignore the warning signs of injury or relapse from an injury. Speak with your healthcare provider immediately if you have concerns about your injury or recovery.

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