Rehabbing From a Broken Leg

by Philip MacDonald | Last updated

No matter the level of competition, most of us have experienced a soccer injury. Broken legs are one serious form of soccer injury which occurs at all levels of play.  Some famous professionals who have broken their legs in a game include Swedish footballer Henrik Larsen when playing for Rangers, Eduardo da Silva when playing of Arsenal, Alan Smith and Antonio Valencia who each broke a leg while playing for Manchester United. Obviously, this type of injury can happen to any one of us.

If you have had the unfortunate experience of a broken leg then your next challenge becomes how to regain full fitness. No two breaks are identical. However, some breaks are similar and the treatment for the break is often the same.

On a personal note, almost four weeks ago, I severely broke my leg in an Ontario Cup soccer game. I was on the receiving end of a studs-up tackle which broke the right tibia and fibula and severely displaced the leg. I now have a titanium rod through the tibia and four screws which hold the rod place. The rod and screws will remain in place for life. The fibula was realigned and will heal on its own. A video of the game shows how it occurred and was of interest to the orthopedic surgeon who operated. The attached x-rays provide a better understanding of the break, realignment and titanium rod and screws in place.

Without getting into any more detail, I want to discuss the rehabilitation. It took some time but I am beginning to feel much better and I don’t believe this is by mistake.

Although the physiotherapists showed up in the hospital less than 15 hours after my surgery to have me start moving, I’ll just say there was no movement whatsoever for the first the first 24 hours after surgery. Since there was a great deal of pain and discomfort after surgery, my initial concern was that any movement so soon would only worsen the injury. The surgeon advised me quite the opposite. Movement had to occur otherwise my leg would stiffen and lock up.

Below are some of the exercises I have been doing to date which is just three weeks post surgery. Remember, if you feel some pain or slight discomfort it is alright to continue but if you are experiencing severe pain or feel as if you are in absolute agony then by all means stop! In the first couple weeks pain killers were taken prior to doing these exercises and in each case after the physio exercises, ice was applied to the leg. Every exercise below is for the injured leg.

Ankle exercises

  • Since the ankle is not strong enough, wrap a band around your foot and begin to stretch the foot by pulling on the band. Began with the simplest of movements such as moving the foot up and down. Repeat this movement as many times as possible before getting tired.
  • Tap the foot while in a seated position. Tap left and right.
  • Circular movements: pretend to write the alphabet with the foot.
  • While crutching, make an effort to place the heel of the foot down followed by the toe.

Knee exercises

Bending the knee is the next major challenge. The titanium rod was inserted from the knee so the knee will be extremely swollen, sore and stiff.

  • Wrap the band around your foot and pull the foot closer to your chest thus bending the knee. With time, this should become easier, be less painful and you should have greater range.
  • Lie on your back, put your feet up and pretend you’re riding a bicycle. Begin with small pedal movements and gradually do larger pedals.
  • With your leg fully extended, flex the knee and hold for a few seconds and then relax.
  • Once you have enough bend in the knee, lie on your back, bend your leg and pull the knee into your chest. Then fully extend your leg.
  • In a standing position (with the aid of your crutches) raise the knee and keep it still. Then begin to make circular movements with your foot.
  • In a standing position (with the aid of your crutches) raise your knee as high as you can.
  • In a standing position (with the aid of your crutches) keep the leg straight and reach as far back as you can with your foot.
  • Combine the last two movements by bringing the knee up and then reaching as far back as possible with the same leg.

Quadriceps and hamstring strengthening exercises

The quad and hamstring will lose an incredible amount of muscle (and quickly) so it is important to work on developing these muscles again.

  • While standing with your crutches try to raise your injured leg and touch the foot to the bum.
  • While lying on your back, attach an elastic band to your foot and pull your leg to your chest. This will strengthen the quad.
  • While lying on your back, attach an elastic band around your heel and pull your leg to your chest. This will strengthen the hamstring.

Work on the physio each day and slowly build up the sessions to several times per day. All exercises should be documented so that you can track your progress. Repeat every exercise as often as possible.

In the past, a broken leg may have meant the end of your career. However, modern day medicine has come a long way. Many people wonder why a cast was not used for the injury above and it is because the titanium rod keeps the leg straight and strong. Furthermore, the doctor wants you to start moving the leg asap. Then there is the issue of cleaning the wounds on a daily basis to avoid infection. Lastly, one can weight bear 50% on the broken leg right away. The healing of bones is better and there are also fewer complications in the long run.

Each of the professionals listed at the beginning of this blog broke his leg and had the rod and screws inserted. They all returned to the pitch in a year’s time. Not only that but they played some of their best football to date. For example, Henrik Larsen went on to win the Champions League with FC Barcelona and Eduardo da Silva has gone on to score many goals for his club Shakhtar Donetsk and for his national team, Croatia.

The most important thing after such a break is to regain your health. If you one day play soccer again, then great but more importantly you’ll want normalcy with your life. In the end, you want to be independent and be able to do the simple daily routines without any trouble. Any athletics beyond that is a bonus.

More will be written on this subject in the future to provide a better understanding of the rehab from such an injury. Hopefully though, you don’t have to experience the real thing.

9 Responses to “Rehabbing From a Broken Leg

  • on the 22 june 2011 i broke my tibia nd fibula a titanium rod inserted and on the 2nd of august the doctor just discharged me and said i must not use the crutches to walk

    • Philip MacDonald
      6 years ago

      Listen to your doctor! No two breaks are the same and each doctor will inform you as how best to recover. I can only share my own experience. I am only at six weeks and it certainly is a difficult injury to recover from but little by little there are improvements. I should add it becomes a mental battle because you want to do things but simply can’t or shouldn’t. That’s where you have to be careful not to experience any setbacks. Good luck in your recovery!

  • Same injury 3 weeks ago. My first appointment at week 6 and since then the doctor said no weight to the leg. However, I tried to put weight and it feeled OK. I even made few steps without any crutches. Only little pain from the fibula and the stiff ankle. I have two concerns:
    1. Do/did you have areas of your leg which you don’t feel when touched or feel tingle (like have pins and needles)? The skin on my knee is like that, also the area above my thumb all over the ankle. Is this normal?
    2. The wounds on the knee somehow are attached to the surface under the skin, so when I try to strech the skin I feel pain. It seemes like the wound grew together with the flesh underneath. Did you have this problem and if yes, how did you menage to solve it?
    Thanks in advance.

  • Philip MacDonald
    4 years ago

    Thanks for the comment.

    1) Yeah I had that numb feeling around my ankle. That was nerve damage but it all went away in 6-12 months.

    2) Also the wounds could be fusing against the bone so be sure to move your skin around (provided no pain). I had a similar feeling when the wounds on the shin were healing against the tibia. With manipulation it went away.

    Good luck!

  • Nice article. It is very accurate.

    Broke Right tib/fib end of July.

    Sat on the coutch for 3 days straight high as a kite.

    Started bending and range of motion stuff right away. Standing/w pressure on my toes because my ancke could not bend yet. I can get around on crutches, but the swelling and pressure hurts to stay upright for very long. I keep it wrapped and Ice and elevate.

    Kicked my crutches to the curb 2 weeks later. I just hobbled. It hurt but I did it. It made doing things for myself easier.

    3 weeks later I could limp (ugly, very ugly), and I got the ok to drive and no longer taking percoset.

    4 weeks; I could walk with acetaminophen, limp without.

    5 weeks the same.

    Week 6 was better.

    Week 7, I could get around with out acetaminophen for the day, but it helps; I can crack my toes again.

    I just finished week 8, I’m still swollen at the break sight and around the ankle and probably will be for some time. I still keep it wrapped in an ace bandage and it helps. I still take acetaminophen and sometimes add ibuprofen if I have a long day of walking/standing ahead of me. (I still notice if I forget to take the pain meds.)

    I had 2 therapy sessions since the break(both in August) which were good, but cost prohibitive. I just stretch (sometimes) and walk around a bunch. The pins are starting to bug me, but they don’t hurt. I can bend my knee so my heel is up to my butt with out pain. It still hurts to kneel on a hard surface because of the minor swelling at the knee.
    I’m 39 yo male. Not too active of a person.
    My doc said I was doing better than most back on Sep 5, but my bone had barely even started to heal. next appointment is the end of October.

  • I’m currently going through physiotherapy for my triple break, i broke my femur, patella and tibia all at once and i have to say I’m not the most consistent when it comes to physio, i broke my leg december 28th last year and would like to know if you have any good physio exercises? the bone around my femur and patella has almost completely healed and theres a small chip in my tibia that they think is permanent. I have a rod down my femur and tibia, 8 nails in my knee and two above my ankle… Any Suggestions?

  • Grace stine
    7 months ago

    Oh my gosh this is amazing. This is all so helpful. Im 16 years old and I broke my left tib and fib and had my rod and screws put in a little under 3 weeks ago. My doctor wasn’t specific on the physical therapy I could do and my parents didn’t want me to over do anything. I’m so happy I found this. I want to get back to playing soccer as soon as I can. How long before you started slowing getting to play again?

    • Hi grace,
      Same here had triple fracture of my tib /fib . Rod and screws . Broke it Tuesday , op Wednesday , home Thursday . Everything seemed so hard at the start . I’m now 6 months after my operation my leg is healing really well . Started to slight jog and not feeling to much pain . Ok knee still has that tingling feeling to touch but no pain . Got a distinctive hole in my shin at the fracture site but again no pain . I’m looking to be back playing football in the next 3 months . So around 9-12 months I’d say . Your younger then me so should heal quicker . All the best in your recovery

  • I got a rod inserted in my leg about 2 1/2 months ago. I’m experiencing a lot of pain in my knee. I know this can be normal but I’m wondering how long it will bother me for.. thanks in advance!

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