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Getting Back to Running After a Broken Leg

Updated on November 20, 2016
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Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. A keen cyclist, runner, and obstacle racer who ran his first ultra-marathon in 2016.

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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      Taylor G 3 months ago

      This Christmas I broke my leg sledging and snapped the tibia clean through, I needed surgery and was expected to be on my feet within 2-3 months. However the plate was infected in my leg so they had to re operate 2 more times to clear infection in my leg and even now 7 months later I'm just finishing my course of antibiotics and beginning to walk again without the aid of a boot or crutches (without physio therapy). I just don't know if I'll be able to play football again due to being out so long, anyone here have any ideas? I'm aged 16 if that helps and have been healthy up until this accident

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      Wyatt H. 3 months ago

      I am a runner and I was getting really good at running and then one day while I was at church my friend brought his motorcycle that he practically built, so decided I wanted to ride and I ended up hitting a brick fence and twisting my leg and snapped my tibia, I had a cast for 2 months and a boot for a month and I am about to start physical therapy, hope I get to start running again soon!

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      Tyler Cooper 4 months ago

      I broke my leg 2 weeks before my 20th birthday. I had three open fractures in my leg, my femur, and fib/tib and broke my collarbone. I had a titaniun rod put in my femur and one put into my tibia, with 3 screws in each rod. I race motocross I thought my days of riding were over. I was in a splint for 2 weeks, and was put into a air boot when I went in for getting stitches tooken out. I was on crutches for a total of about 11 weeks, went threw 2 months of physical therapy 2 times a week. Doctor said it's very unusual for all three bones of the leg to break at one time. Every time I went for a checkup I asked when I could ride again, and it was like no body wanted too tell me a answer, or they didn't want too tell me I couldn't. I remounted my bike 5 months later. You never know how much your leg played a role in your daily activities until it's taken away from you. And anybody that is going threw what I did, don't GIVE up, be a inspiration, make a come back. Everything heals, go hard everyday. I had a injury that most would have sold that bike and not looked at another one. I hope this post brings a smile too someone laying in bed, with a broke leg. Worst part is over if your reading this.

      T.B.C

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      Jerri 9 months ago

      I broke my leg when I was 21. I was in a bad motorcycle accident and had an open compound fracture of my tibia and fibula. It required external fixation, then an ORIF. I had compartment syndrome as well. Subsequently I had delayed union that required another ORIF with a larger diameter rod. On top of that my meniscus and ACL is severely damaged. I spent about 8 months in therapy. I sporadically tried getting back to my habit of going to the gym, but the pain can get pretty bad. It's been 4 years since my accident. I have only been able to run a half mile since. Pretty disheartening since I'm young and all I want to do is be healthy and active. Even working a long day takes a toll on my leg.