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Getting Back to Running After a Broken Leg

A Long Recovery

An x-ray of my leg in early January 2015. A fractured tibia and fibula meant two pins and an open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) surgery.
An x-ray of my leg in early January 2015. A fractured tibia and fibula meant two pins and an open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) surgery. | Source

Getting Back to Fitness After a Broken Leg

Accidents happen, and sadly many of us will suffer a broken bone at some point in our lifetime. I am a runner and a cyclist, and I know that many of us who are avid athletes feel that we're indestructible. However, a broken bone can quickly convince us otherwise.

Sadly, returning to running after a broken leg is a medium- to long-term process that should never be rushed. Most of us don't earn a living as an athlete, but our passion for physical activities are a huge part of our lives.

A key aspect of the recovery process is not to push yourself too hard or too soon in the quest to get back to where you were before the injury. Speaking from personal experience, a broken leg will really test your patience and perseverance. Even when you regain your ability to walk, pain is a sign that you may be pushing yourself too far. You may need to back off to allow recovery to continue.

Recovery from a broken leg should be more about your long-term health than about being able to return quickly to running or cycling.

If you have to have the area pinned and/or plated, you may require surgery called an open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) to fix the fracture. Whether or not surgery is needed, you will most likely have to wear a cast on your leg for quite some time to allow your leg to heal properly.

How Long Do You Expect to be Out of Action

If you're reading having broken your leg or ankle- How long do you expect before you start running again?

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Consult Your Doctor

Before starting any exercise, consult your doctor or physician to determine whether it is safe. Make sure you discuss all of your training plans. Your doctor will advise you about how to promote a safe and optimal recovery.

Getting Back into Running and Exercise After a Stress Fracture

Part of getting back into running begins when you're in the plaster cast. Stress fractures can generally take around 6-8 weeks to heal. It may feel like you're ready to run again a couple of weeks but it's vital to resist this urge as you could put your recovery period back to day 1 and have you potentially walking on crutches for much longer.

This period doesn't have to be one of inactivity as your doctor may be able to recommend suitable alternatives to help maintain your fitness. Pool work like aqua-jogging and swimming are great non-load bearing ways to maintain cardiovascular fitness and enhance strength a short period after your stress fracture.

Factors Affecting Return to Running after a Broken Leg

So exactly when can you commence running again? Whilst everyone is different there are a number of factors which will need to be considered

  • How severe your break was
  • The requirement for surgery can add additional time
  • How successful physiotherapy is
  • The level of effort you put into your rehabilitation from the break

Many runners will be able to begin running between three and four months post-break. This timeframe allows your bones to heal and for a return to your pre-injury range of motion and strength levels. At this point you can gradually start to increase volumes and intensity and you should be back to your regular running program within 6-9 months post injury if you allow your fitness to progress gradually.

Cycling is a Great Rehabilitation Activity

Consider cycling as a rehabilitation activity to help in your return to running after a broken leg
Consider cycling as a rehabilitation activity to help in your return to running after a broken leg

Running After a Broken Leg

Once you get the go-ahead from your doctor to get back into running those first few runs WILL be tough and need to be built up to. All the time you spent in plaster will have weakened your leg with a agree of muscle breakdown which will likely be the cause of some discomfort. The key is to ease into running gradually.

A good initial approach is to alternate between running and walking until you're confident to be back running full-time. Start conservatively and it will benefit you in the long term.

Getting Back Into Runnng

  • Ease back into running gradually
  • Start walking- add intervals of easy running over time
  • Use cycling and elliptical trainers for lower impact exercise
  • Alternate days- Don't run at first 2 consecutive days
  • Consider surfaces like grass and trails as alternatives to the stresses of pavement running.

Typical Problems Faced After a Broken Leg

When you're getting back into activity and your cast has come off your recovery will still be ongoing and it's likely you will still experience some of the below symptoms which may require further addressing as part of your recovery process

  • Swelling at the point of break
  • Pain in the leg whilst loading or moving
  • Decreased rang of movement and motion.
  • Loss of muscle strength
  • Tightness from scar tissue
  • Reduced balance
  • Issues with proprioception

Soft Surfaces Take Away the Stress of the Pavement

Stick to cross country running initially as it will reduce the stresses and strains of pounding the pavement in your return from a leg fracture
Stick to cross country running initially as it will reduce the stresses and strains of pounding the pavement in your return from a leg fracture

Calcium Build-Up After a Bone Fracture

As a stress fracture heals, calcium can deposit at the point of the fracture with the purpose of bone protection. This deposit can place pressure upon other tissues and lead to strange sensations. This can include feelings or numbness or a tingling sensation whilst running and these sensations can last for several months afterwards.

In many cases these sensations should not stop your running, although if you do experience consistent pain at the point of fracture it's best to head back to your doctor for a consultation.

Have You Broken Your Leg?

Have you been in the wars? How did it happen and when are you hoping to get back into running? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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    CyclingFitness profile image

    Liam Hallam (CyclingFitness)317 Followers
    262 Articles

    Liam Hallam is a Sports Science graduate. A keen Cyclist, Runner and Obstacle Racer who ran his first Ultramarathon in 2016



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