On the 2nd January 2012 I was happily playing tennis in the Dyke road tennis tournament when I slipped over during a match. To put it bluntly, I felt two snaps and saw my left leg swell and my foot point 45° in the wrong direction. After lots of gas and air in an ambulance, tears and x-rays, I was given the unfortunate news that I had broken my left fibular (the long thin bone that runs down the side of the leg) and dislocated my foot (the tibio – talar joint, this is where the leg joins onto the foot). This was obviously not good news for anybody, especially for someone who is fiercely independent, sporty, self-employed and works in a physical job. The consultant manipulated the foot back in (thank goodness for morphine and gas and air!) and the leg was wrapped in plaster. I was wheeled up to a ward to await surgery scheduled for the morning to relocate the bones and put metal work in.
At this point I was not a happy bunny.
The surgery came and went and I awoke to find a big black boot on my left leg. That evening the nurses checked me over and I went home with a pair of crutches. I asked the oh so important question “how long before I will be up and about playing tennis again.” The surgeon told me not for another 6 months, 6 months!!!!!!!
When I got home, I struggled to get out of the car, up to the stairs to the building then went through to the main entrance and started to attempt the 4 flights of stairs to my flat. The same stairs I raced down only the day before as I was running late for the tennis competition. It’s not easy using crutches, especially when you have a dead weight of a left leg (the nerve block hadn’t worn off) and have a load of stairs in front of you. When I got up to the flat that’s when I started to acclimatise to living differently. I couldn’t shower properly, couldn’t go to the loo comfortably (negotiating stairs to get to the loo). I couldn’t even carry and walk at the same time. I was very tired and upset, realising I was more or less marooned unless I put maximal effort to even just get out of the building. I had cancelled all my clients for that week with the thinking I’d probably have to cancel the following week as well but I wanted to see how I coped first.
I suddenly found myself having a lot of time on my hands. What does someone do with a lot of time…..they go on the internet. After 2 days of thinking I wouldn’t be properly active again for another 6 months and getting very depressed I decided to challenge the surgeons opinion on my recovery rate and turned to Google. Now this is something I rarely like clients doing, especially when they go onto forums in regards to their pain as there tends to only be negative news. I looked up leg/ankle fracture healing rates with the type of fracture/dislocation I had- the experiences of other people weren’t that positive. Most of them were saying how they still had pain 3 months on, still limping, unable to get back to sport 6 months on or something went wrong in the operation.
At this point I decided I was going to take control over my recovery/healing process (well I had nothing else to do!).
The first thing I did was change my diet. I gave up all processed foods. Anything with an ingredients list on the back of it. This included all grains and dairy products. I gave up caffeine and alcohol completely. I also cut out anything too sugary including very sugary fruits. I then got a friend to take me to the clinic to pick up the omega-3 fish oils we sell, and ordered a load of supplements off the internet. Glucosamine, chondroitin, msm etc.
I also realised If I wasn’t careful I would spending all day, everyday indoors. I made sure I was to go out and sit in daylight for at least 1 hour every day. (bearing in mind this was January time – I infact could have done with more than 1 hour sunlight at that time of year). Vitamin D helps with tissue repair.
I made sure that although I was depressed (effectively I had no independence) I kept a positive mental attitude about my recovery. I made sure I had loads of visitors every day and watched loads of comedy programmes. I made a visit to the seafront everyday as well- just had to get out of the flat.
After a week of being laid up I was getting used to the crutches. I was able to climb stairs not on my back side but one legged. (My right butt cheek got a really good workout). Even though I knew it would be a struggle, I decided to go back to work- I knew it would improve my healing process by interacting with colleagues and clients. It helped to take my mind off things and kept me busy rather than sitting on my sofa doing nothing.
Going back to work was difficult. Being a chiropractor I have to stand/walk/lift all day and I was still in the process of having to keep my leg above me regularly to allow for blood and inflammation drainage. I booked out regular breaks in between clients- I put my leg up and let it drain back into my body. When I would let my leg go back down after having it elevated for 10 minutes I was actually in a fair bit of pain. The blood coming back into my leg felt like it was on fire. Literally burning. But in my mind the constant moving, light weight-bearing, elevation and bringing it back down was all helping to stimulate the healing process even more.
At two weeks I was scheduled for a GP appointment for the dressings behind the boot to be checked and changed, all was well. The GP was very understanding of what I was going through and completely agreed with my reasons of going back to work so early which was really warming as a lot of people were telling me I was doing too much. With every week that went by I got more and more positive and was getting quite nippy on the crutches as well. Overtaking people on motability scooters (yes really). I had to catch taxi’s everywhere as I still couldn’t crutch the distance between home and work (normally a 10 minute walk).
On week 3 I regularly took my leg out of the boot. (those boots are so much better than having plaster casts). My foot/ankle was swollen and looked 3 times the size of my right one. My calf muscle however had almost completely withered away. This is a prime example of how a muscle can weaken and disappear. It did for me, very quickly. My foot had been kept in one position for a relatively long time. My calf muscle had seen no action whatsoever, so my body just broke it down and used the energy it generated elsewhere. Probably building up my arms for all the crutch use I was getting. At the same time as I was getting my leg out of the boot I started to get it physically treated. Getting my colleagues to do gentle mobilisation and stimulation around the area felt like it was needed.
On week 4 I decided to take the dressing off completely and this is when I went to town on getting my ankle properly treated. I was having low level laser therapy, ultrasound, acupuncture, manipulation, massage, and mobilisation. Every day. Without fail. I was starting to put more and more weight through the ankle (more than what I was told to do). I was getting people to physically hurt me when treating the area in my attempt to make as fast a recovery as possible.
This is when I started to notice the biggest jump in recovery. By week 5 I was only using the boot and crutches whilst outside. When I was either at work or at home I was walking around in barefoot, getting my left foot working properly again and getting as much stimulation through the ankle as possible. I was still limping a fair bit but I felt so free to not have to rely on the boot and crutches constantly.
By week 6 I stopped using the boot and crutches altogether and was back to wearing normal shoes. I could walk to and from work, albeit with a limp, but I could do it.
Week 7 The limp had just about gone. Only if I walked somewhere for more than 20 minutes would I start unconsciously limping again. I then also had my post operation check-up with the surgeon. I had this alongside other people who had broken various limbs that week of the year. The fracture clinic is only open on Mondays. Sitting in the waiting area at the county I was the only one who had no crutches or boot on me. I walked into the surgeons office with my skinny jeans on and a big smile on my face. He did some movements with my ankle and noted how impressed he was with my recovery so far. I asked how long before I could get back to sport?…. he said to give it another couple of weeks and start weaning oneself back into it.
So I continued every day with the physical therapy, getting my back adjusted as well. I was still on the special diet and religiously taking the supplements.
At 10 weeks I went back onto the tennis court and had a gentle knock about with my tennis partner. I felt fantastic.
31/2 months I had my first tennis match (which I won!)
4 months I went back to military fitness and going for 5k runs, surfing and learning to kite surf.
I would like to add that at no point when I was getting back into sport did I use any form of ankle support or brace. I relied heavily on the ankle strengthening exercises I did religiously over the initial recovery weeks.
There’s no doubt I made a very fast recovery. My calf circumference which I was told would never get back to normal is now perfect. My foot flexibility which I was told would never get back to normal is now exactly the same as my right foot (perfect!). All this was brought about by the change in diet, the treatment I received and the attitude I took to heal as quickly as I could.
At time of posting, I’ve just passed the 6 month barrier and I almost forget about the surgery and trauma of the fracture. My ankle occasionally feels a little stiff but generally doesn’t stop me from doing what I want to do. When I see people in the street using crutches and boots for various reasons (Achilles rupture, different fractures etc.) I can’t help but go up to them and enquire about their experiences. It’s amazing how people accept their recovery prognosis. I always say….never accept, always challenge. There is always a faster way to get better if you want it. It requires effort but the rewards are so satisfying.
It was a benefit to my healing process that I was already fit and healthy but nonetheless had I not received the continuing chiropractic care and the diet modification I would have responded exactly the way the surgeon anticipated- 6 months!!