I recently broke my ankle from a fall while rock climbing. Ankle injuries are really common in the sport - many of my friends had been getting sprained ankles this season. I was on high alert to be safe and minimize the risks associated with the sport, but accidents still happen…
My fall resulted in a vertically displaced and fractured talus bone, an uncommon injury predominantly found in motorcycle, climbing, and ladder accidents. Basically, the bone that connects my calf to my foot split in half, right down the middle.
It’s been nine days since my surgery, which was an “open reduction internal fixation.” I haven’t been back to the hospital for x-rays yet, but there’s at least a few screws in there.
Here I am happily trying to get better post-surgery.
I’m obviously not a medical professional, but I have learned a great deal already about post-surgery recovery that may be useful for another unlucky individual who took a fall. In no particular order, here are some tips and tricks for getting better that I’ve picked up so far:
1. Stay Positive
This is the number one thing you need while recovering from any major injury or illness. Maintaining a positive outlook and surrounding yourself with people who will support you are essential to a smoother recovery. It’s so easy to get stressed and frustrated about an injury that is so abrupt, difficult to explain, and has an indeterminant recovery timeline, but that just leads to more body tension and a slower recovery.
2. One Step at a Time
Related to a positive attitude, I’ve found that focusing on immediate goals (days and weeks) is much more productive than worrying about the struggles ahead (months and years). The doctors typically give patients a 50/50 chance at ankles returning to normal functionality after this type of injury, and that’s a really hard pill to swallow. What’s important, however, is understanding that the best way to improve those odds is to remain focused on what’s achievable: Staying careful, eating well, sleeping well, physical therapy, etc.
3. Constant Elevation
The nurses and doctors at my orthopedic office continually stressed the importance of keeping my injured foot elevated as much as possible, preferrably to where the foot is at a higher level than the heart. This helps reduce inflammation, which in turn speeds recovery and reduces pain. For me, I have found that the most comfortable position for my leg is to use a rolled up sleeping bag to prop my foot up and a foam block for my thigh to rest on. This is far superior to a traingular, sloped mass of bedding because you’re able to adjust which parts of your leg are supporting it’s weight. For example, I can stretch my leg out fully with my heel on the sleeping bag and bottom thigh on the block, or bend my leg and rest the outside ankle on the sleeping bag and outside thigh on the block. If you don’t have a foam block (which was originally used to hold my head in place during surgery), try a book, yoga block, or nalgene bottle.
4. Stretch and massage
At first I was nervous (and too pained haha) to move my leg around much, but I’ve found that stretching constantly helps blood flow and eases discomfort. While lying down, curling the leg up helps relax some of the tension built up in the leg muscles. I’ve also discovered that putting a yoga block on the small of your back once a day helps stretch things out.
Although the injury is of course only in the ankle, the entire leg will be sore from being in awkward positions and nerve inflammation from the surgery. Therefore, massaging the leg really helps with comfort and blood flow. I’ve also rediscovered The Stick from my high school cross country days. It’s been really helpful in smoothing my leg muscles out.
5. Those Damn Pain Meds
I’ve been prescribed Percocet to manage the pain from surgery. Right after surgery I wasn’t in any pain whatsoever because the nerve blockers did such a good job. But the night after surgery was pretty rough. My first day after surgery I took a whopping 10 pills.
The volume of medication I was taking was pretty alarming, so I took my family’s recommendation to start tracking this on a note on my phone. I would simply mark every time I took one or two percocets. The unintended benefit of doing so was that I was able to track my recovery on quantifiable terms. It’s difficult to say if a day was less painful than the day before, but if I got through it while taking one less percocet, that’s a victory in my book. I’m now down to two percocet per day, much to everyone’s (and my stomach’s) relief.
If it’s legal where you live, I’ve also found medical marajuana to be crucial for taking less percocet. I asked every doctor I could, and they all recommended edible marajuana (brownies, gummies) as a viable source for pain relief after (NOT before!) surgery. They also emphasized that smoking it was not a good idea, as it can restrict blood flow in a similar way to tobacco. I’ve found that edibles do not necessarily take away too much of the pain in my foot, but relaxes my entire body so that I care less about the pain. They’ve basically been an effective means to extend the periods between needing to take percocet, but aren’t sufficient to entirely replace them yet.
6. Protein, Water, Protein, Water
I’ve been trying to eat as much protein as I can, to help facilitate faster bone recovery. Yogurt, nuts, meats, you name it. I’ve also read that bananas can help with muscle spasms. Essentially, I’m just trying to eat nutritional foods constantly.
Water is also super important. Of course, it’s important to keep hydrated, but I’ve also found it to be helpful in flushing out all the medication I’ve been taking.
That’s it! I hope these tips are helpful for anyone in a similar bind. If you have any other tips, I would love to hear them and encourage you to leave a comment. I’ll also be posting more updates on my recovery as I get a cast, start physical therapy, and hopefully start walking soon!