My foot is swollen after an ankle fracture. When can I start walking?

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Question:

It’s been 3 weeks and my foot is still swollen. My condition came from a small ankle fracture on my left foot. On my first week I was in bed rest. Then, half of my second week I was on crutches and later went to the walker boot. Even though my foot is swollen, could I be able to start walking on my foot again or should I wait more until it’s full gone?

Answer:

Thank you for reaching out to us! At this time, it is difficult to determine if full weight-bearing (walking without the boot) is appropriate at this time without performing a full examination or knowing more information about what bone was fractured and to what degree. Bone typically heals within 6-8 weeks. However, several factors (age, osteopenia/osteoporosis, smoking, and/or diabetes) may affect that timeline. That said, it doesn’t always mean one must wait 6-8 weeks before safely walking without the boot.

You may have received instructions from the first provider who you initially saw for this injury regarding weight-bearing status or when it would be okay for you to wean off the boot. If not, you may consider contacting them to confirm when he/she wanted you to start walking without the boot. Another option would be scheduling an appointment with a physical therapist in order to have a thorough evaluation of your foot. This would help to determine appropriate progressions with walking and other activities.

Physical Therapy Evaluations

A physical therapy evaluation may consist of looking at things such as ankle motion, strength, joint mobility, and observation of functional movements (walking, squatting, etc.). Often, after being in an immobilizing boot muscles atrophy, or become smaller, resulting in muscle weakness. We may also see joint hypomobility, or stiffness, after use of a walking boot. This can have an effect on how the ankle functions with various movements and activities. Depending on the areas of limitation observed in the examination, patient-specific treatment will be provided. This may include various exercises such as stretching and strengthening, as well as hands-on manual therapy techniques. These treatments will help to ensure proper foot mechanics and stability of the foot/ankle to prevent further injury.

Swelling is a normal component of the healing process. However, excessive swelling can be harmful or indicative of overuse/irritation to the injured area. Typically, with swelling we recommend frequent icing. Ice for 15-20 minutes at a time multiple times a day (2-3 minimum). Meanwhile, keep the extremity elevated above the level of the heart. Be sure to use a barrier, such as a towel or pillow case, between the skin and ice pack.

If you’re experiencing a similar condition, it’s best that you reach out to your local physical therapist for a consultation. To locate a Therapeutic Associates practitioner near you, visit our clinic locator here.

Please note, this reply is for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, physical therapist, or other qualified health provider with a medical condition.

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