Patients facing surgery for a broken ankle are often concerned with how long it will take them to recover. There are many circumstances that affect recovery time, but in general, it is normal for patients to require 12 weeks before they can resume normal daily activities after having an ankle fracture surgically repaired.
That number will fluctuate from patient to patient, however. Please, consult your doctor for a personalized estimate. Everything below this point is intended to give you an idea as to what can shorten or prolong broken ankle surgery recovery time, but this will not necessarily be predictive for your own situation.
That said, let’s take a look at all the mitigating factors that could change a broken ankle’s surgery recovery time frame.
There are three bones in your ankle joint: the tibia, fibula and talus. Breaking any one or more of those three bones constitutes an ankle fracture, and fractures can range from hairline to an outright shattering. The severity of the fracture will directly impact recovery time. In general, a bone will require at least 6 weeks to heal.
Five ligaments and a tendon help hold your ankle together, as well, and these can all be damaged during a fracture. Before your ankle is strong enough to bear weight and allow you to move around more or less as before, this tissue needs time to heal in addition to the bones. Ligaments and tendons often take longer to heal than the bones themselves.
You can see how all of these parts connect in the diagram below.
image by: Wikipedia
Surgical treatment options are called for when ankle fractures are too severe to be treated with just a cast. Special instruments must instead be inserted to stabilize the ankle — patients typically refer to these as “screws” or “plates.” Surgical treatments by their very nature require a longer healing period.
Our 12-week estimate above for broken ankle surgery recovery time reflects an ankle fracture severe enough to require surgery but free of complications, which we will address further below.
What ‘Resume Normal Activity’ Means
Normal activity suggests a level of mobility that meets most of the needs of your day-to-day life. This includes walking around your home or office, driving a car, climbing stairs confidently, and pushing a shopping cart around the grocery store. Depending on the nature of your job, it might only be at this point that you can get back to work.
This does not include active pursuits such as sports, however, nor does it imply that you ankle will be 100% healed at that point. In fact, most patients note that it takes many more months before they can walk without a limp or resume sports at a competitive level.
Surgery itself comes with its own risks, and there are a few common factors that greatly alter the recovery times for a surgically repaired broken ankle. These include smoking, diabetes and age. Quite simply, the older you are, the longer it takes broken bones to heal. If you smoke or have diabetes, then healing will take longer for you, as well.
Furthermore, standard complications with any type of surgery can delay recovery times. These complications include:
- Blood clots
- Damage to blood vessels, tendons or nerves
- Problems with / pain from the plates and screws that are used to fix fracture
Any such complications skew our ability to estimate your broken ankle surgery recovery time, and that information will be best sought from your doctor.
Other Things That Affect Post-Surgery Recovery Time
Here are a few things you can do to help speed up your recovery time:
- Stick to your rehabilitation schedule diligently. The exercises will be physically demanding, and rehab itself if mentally and emotionally exhausting, but this is the absolute key to recovering quickly.
- Do not try to bear weight before your doctor says you can. Trying to stand on an unhealed, unstable ankle can result in painful injury and set your recovery time back months.
- Instead, use whatever mobility devices you prefer to help you get around. We are obviously big fans of knee walkers, but crutches work, too. Just don’t put any weight on your ankle until it is ready.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has some great material to help you figure out how long your broken ankle surgery recovery time might be.
Dilys Morgan kept a helpful diary of her broken ankle recovery. You can read that here. Note that she had a fracture in her fibula that did not require surgery (just a plaster cast), but a full 3 and a half months passed before she was comfortable driving a car.
Simply put, surgically repaired broken ankles take months to recover. You can get back to a mostly normal life at 3 or 4 months post-surgery, but you will still require more time and patience before that ankle feels “good” again.