The process of foot and ankle surgery recovery is not going to be fun, isn’t it? Bones take a long time to heal- a broken ankle, for example, can take anywhere from four to eight weeks of healing before you begin to have full mobility on it.
Following the recovery plan provided to you by your doctor is absolutely essential.
Keeping weight off the fracture is the biggest thing you can do to help it heal. You don’t want to stress it while it’s in the vital stage of early reconfiguration, particularly before surgery.
Whether you are using crutches, a boot, or a walker to get around, be steadfast about taking it easy. Eat healthily and consume Vitamin C.
I’ve been through it- I broke my ankle back in April, and it wasn’t until mid-summer that I felt up to par. Here are my tips for minimizing the effect on your daily routine and making foot & ankle surgery recovery process as easy as possible:
Pre-surgery: Prep and care
- Before you go into surgery, be sure to keep up with any PATs (pre-admission testing.) These will help doctors ensure that you are well enough for surgery and are getting the proper care beforehand. Take it very easy before heading into surgery.
- The last thing you want to do is make your physical condition worse. The more you allow your body to heal itself, the easier your ankle surgery recovery process will be after the surgery.
- In your home, keep lights on at night to make moving to the bathroom and bedroom easier. Your mind will be focused on getting around safely with the injury, so anything you can do to make that process easier is beneficial.
- Stop eating and drinking at 11:59 PM the night before. It is important to have an empty stomach and not have a bunch of chemicals floating around in the body when heading under the knife.
- The day before surgery, you should receive a phone call from someone at the hospital to go over all of the details and ensure that everyone is on the same page as far as expectations. Be sure to arrive with your medical insurance card and a photo ID.
Post-surgery: How to minimize your downtime and increase your odds of full recovery?
1. Getting Around- shopping, dining, work, and pleasure
Incorporating items such as a knee scooter will make the entire process easier. With an assisted walking device, you will not have to be dependent on family members or friends to get around the house and complete daily chores.
Here are the best tips for foot and ankle surgery recovery mobility assistance:
- Knee scooters are the strongest option for maintaining mobility during your foot & ankle surgery recovery. They give the ability to sit and take some of the weight off of your non-injured leg. Besides, they also can provide a bit more speed so it won’t take so long to get around the house or the office. They can be easily loaded into a vehicle, taken to public places, and allow for easy mobility in places like shopping malls, coffee shops, and grocery stores. Most have a basket on the front that can be used to carry a variety of items. The knee pad is soft and comfortable, and they come equipped with brakes so maintaining control is not an issue.
- Crutches allow you to stand and move around most types of terrain, albeit slowly. They can be adjusted to fit your height and prevent slouching over a walker or cane. The downside of crutches is that they rub underneath your arms and can be quite uncomfortable after a while. Try wrapping a towel or thick cloth over the top handle to reduce this strain. Typically, a knee scooter is a better way to go.
- Canes are only doable if the injury is not very severe. They do not allow the user to keep all weight off the injury, and really should only be implemented as the recovery draws to a close and a knee walker or crutches are no longer necessary.
- Wheelchairs are a viable option if you can make them work with your daily routine. Obviously, they won’t work for stairs, steep hills, or varied terrain, but if your day is mostly spent indoors without vast amounts of moving around they can be a good way to go.
2. What to eat and drink to help bones heal?
- The most important thing to be sure of is that you are consuming enough calcium. Calcium helps in bone growth. Leafy greens should be a staple of your diet. Cheeses and low-fat yogurt are another strong options. Vegetarians are in luck- tofu should be a protein staple during your recovery. Try mixing it into noodle bowls and soups.
- Fish are high in calcium so that sushi is a good way to go. Grilled bone-in fish or fish canned with bones is good because of the high calcium content in the bones that will seep into the meat during the cooking process.
- Eat lots of green vegetables like okra, broccoli, bok choy, and collard greens.
- Nuts- especially almonds.
- Try to avoid caffeine. Caffeine hurts the healing process and makes it harder for the bone to regrow. Switch to decaf coffee or tea if you must have that fix in your daily routine.
- When bathing, it is in your best interest to take a bath instead of a shower. This allows you to keep the area around the fractured bone out of the water more easily and prevents you from having to stand on it. Baths also keep you from having to wrap your ankle and foot in plastic. If taking a shower, you’ll have to securely cover the affected area to keep it from getting wet.
- If you must shower, place a stool or small seat in the shower to make it more comfortable. Keep all of the toiletries- i.e. shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc.- within an arm’s reach of the stool. Another helpful hint is to have a family member or loved one help you if they are around. Even if they are just within shouting distance to hear you call out if you need assistance getting up.
- To clean your boot or cast, mix a small amount of bleach with warm water and scrub. This will disinfect the item and help to keep your wounded area clean.
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Your doctor should provide you with a list of appropriate exercises to assist in ankle surgery recovery. At first, these will primarily be light stretches. As the healing process progresses, movement rotations will come into play. As the ability to put weight on the injured foot or ankle is regained, short amounts of walking and other activities that help strengthen the muscles around the injury will be allowed. Once you have regained the ability to stand on your injured leg, do the following exercises:
- Standing soleus stretch- Face a wall and place your hands on the wall at chest height. Keep the healthy foot forward, knee bent, standing pigeon-toed. Bend your back knee slightly while leaning into the wall- you will feel the strain on your injured foot or ankle and that means it is stretching out the muscles.
- Standing calf stretch- Face a wall with your hands on the wall at eye level. Place the injured leg back with your heel on the floor. Place the healthy leg forward with the knee bent. Turn your back foot inward. Lean slowly into the wall until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Move slowly back into the resting position, and then repeat the process three times.
Do this exercise daily!
5. Creating a routine: How to avoid bad habits that slow down the process?
- Getting into a daily routine focuses on your exercises and a healthy diet is the most important thing you can do the speed up the recovery process. Get plenty of sleep and rest, and make sure you do any stretches or exercises as directed by the doctor. If you feel the strain on the injury, stop what you are doing and rest. Daily tasks and workloads are going to take longer than normal but if you keep to a routine, you will be able to get through them.
- Focus on being healthy. Avoid alcohol, as drinking can slow down the immune system which in turn will make the healing process take longer. Also avoid smoking tobacco, as this also affects the immune system and increases the chances of getting sick. If you become sick, your body will focus on healing the ailment and this will slow down the healing process.
6. Keep a positive mindset
- Get back to work as soon as possible. Keeping your mind occupied will help the healing process by minimizing stress. As crazy as it sounds, mental stress affects the immune system and the physical nature of the body, so it is important to do everything you can to be happy and keep yourself busy during recovery.
- Having a positive mindset from the get-go will make the healing process easier and smoother the entire time. It goes back to that whole ‘if you will it, it will become’ idea- picture yourself healing properly and getting back to life as normal. If you spend your days feeling sorry for yourself and having a bad mental attitude, depression will creep in and your entire life can go downhill from there.
- Having a positive mindset is imperative- just because you have injured yourself doesn’t mean you need to be down in the dumps all the time. These things happen! Think of it as a learning experience and focus on the road ahead.
How long will foot & ankle surgery recovery take?
The length of ankle surgery recovery time depends largely on the severity of the injury and how well you take care of yourself in the healing process.
Typically, recovery time from a foot or ankle related surgery will take six to eight weeks. This is only until a strong amount of weight can be put on the injured leg.
For more minor injuries, the recovery time can drop down to four weeks for the initial recovery, although when surgery is involved this is extremely rare.
Full recovery from the surgery will take four to six months. Up until that point, it is normal to feel slight discomfort when the foot or ankle is moved in awkward positions or timings.
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As long as the severe pain is not involved, this is completely normal. If you maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle during recovery, and the surgery is successful, there is no reason why the process should take longer than six months.
Return to the doctor if you still experience painful symptoms after six months of recovery. Although you may always notice slight agitation for the remainder of your life, if everything goes well you should be able to return to 100% activity and wellness level within six months of the surgery.
Within two months, your mobility level should be high enough to work, do household chores, and go out shopping and with friends.
Recovering from foot or ankle surgery is an arduous process but not a complete game changer. With these tips for foot & ankle surgery recovery, you’ll be on your way to 100% as quickly as possible. Incorporating helpful steps like knee scooters can make the entire process easier and help it to have a minimal effect on your personal routine. Just remember- eat healthily, don’t drink or smoke, and follow your doctor’s recommend exercise routine and advice and you’ll be back to normal.