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Riding Again After an Ankle Fracture

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  • Riding Again After an Ankle Fracture

    I broke my ankle almost 12 weeks ago - a slab fracture of the fibula that did not require surgery as well as another fracture of the fibula up by my knee - in a freak accident involving a wild turkey. When the PA said six weeks to heal the fracture I was ok with that and thought well at least I'll be back riding within a couple of months and since I hate heat anyway it won't be so bad to miss out on the middle of the summer.

    I got back on my relatively quiet, no-spook, fairly close to the ground 4-year-old bareback a couple of weeks ago and progressed from short walking hacks to flat work sessions in the ring. Today I decided to get on his big brother for my first saddled ride, and found that I was in quite a bit of pain and was only able to walk around the farm and pray we didn't flush out any turkeys .

    I'm just not able to bear any weight in the stirrup. The PA told me I also had some soft tissue injuries in the ankle and they would take longer to heal but that I should resume regular activities and try to get as much normal range of motion as possible. So it was discouraging not to be able to do more than walk in the saddle and figure it's going to be a while before I can even think about jumping (other than bareback ).

    I broke my collar bone a few years ago, and while way more painful initially I was so much quicker betting back to my usual activities and actually rode before the six weeks were up.

    Obviously every fracture is different, but I was wondering if anyone has stories about their broken ankles and how long it was before they were back in the saddle.
    Last edited by EAY; Aug. 5, 2017, 09:23 PM.

  • #2
    I fractured my ankle and broke my fibula up by the knee many years ago. I also found out I was pregnant during the initial x-rays and exam....ultimately that was more impactful on my riding plans!

    I had surgery to screw my ankle back together and they put me in a cast. The cast ended below the fibula break (the docs were totally unconcerned about that break and kept telling me that it was a non-weight-bearing bone and it would "just heal"). I tried to get back on a horse a couple of days after surgery. The fibula clicked and clacked like crazy as my mare moved, and that was that. I opted out of riding for the next 3 or 4 weeks. The fibula ends started healing back together almost 3 weeks to the day, and I had no issues with the fibula after the 3 week point (which was maybe 2 weeks post-surgery?).

    The day the doc removed my cast I was back on a horse (so that must have been 4ish weeks after the actual break). I rode with one (or no) stirrups for the next 3 or 4 weeks so that I could get my main horse back in the show ring with the goal of getting in at least one show in the 1.30m jumpers before I was too pregnant to jump.

    That horseshow was somewhere in the 12 week-post-break time frame and I made it. That was also the first week I started riding with my left stirrup (the broken ankle stirrup). I do remember that landing from some of the jumps almost killed me! And walking courses was extremely difficult (I was still limping pretty good). But aside from a handful of those painful landings, my ankle functioned relatively normally.

    When I got in to see a physical therapist, she told me that she was really surprised by how much mobility I had in my ankle. Thank you horses!

    Flying F Sport Horses
    Horses in the NW


    • #3
      Sorry you're going through this. I had a broken ankle as well. Post surgery it started feeling much better. Went through PT as best I could. I found riding didn't bother my ankle. However, I had lost a lot of flexibility in it. When I first got on, I found I had to lengthen that one stirrup two holes. And that felt like my legs were balanced. I couldn't flex, so it was tough. Eventually, I raised it one hole, then two, and now they're fine. For riding, anyway.
      “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
      ¯ Oscar Wilde


      • Original Poster

        Maybe I just need to push it a bit more. I've only recently started going out without my brace, and that seems to have helped my range of motion. I'm hoping to avoid PT (thanks high deductible health insurance ) so I'm doing exercises at home.

        Maybe I'll try riding with only one stirrup. I had it down pretty far but there was still pressure. I actually prefer bareback to no stirrups. I've got wonky hips and posting without stirrups kills them.


        • Original Poster

          Originally posted by ParadoxFarm View Post
          Sorry you're going through this. I had a broken ankle as well. Post surgery it started feeling much better. Went through PT as best I could. I found riding didn't bother my ankle. However, I had lost a lot of flexibility in it. When I first got on, I found I had to lengthen that one stirrup two holes. And that felt like my legs were balanced. I couldn't flex, so it was tough. Eventually, I raised it one hole, then two, and now they're fine. For riding, anyway.
          I do worry whether I will ever get back the same flexibility. Also wonder if maybe I would have been better off with surgery. I never actually saw an MD (not in the ER or at the orthopedic practice) but I assumed that the surgeon reviewed my x-rays. I do think a lot of what I'm dealing with now is the soft tissue injuries.


          • #6
            I broke my ankle (fibula) two years ago. I was told 6-8 weeks to heal the fracture. I was riding at that point, but almost entirely without stirrups whether it was hacking, for lessons, and even often in the hunt field (if we weren't negotiating any terrain and just kind of cruising along at slow speeds). I lost a LOT of flexibility in my ankle while it healed. It is back to my pre-injury normal, which still isn't as good at the other ankle due to prior, other injuries.

            I also started with long stirrups and gradually raised them. Jumping (landing) was very painful for a while as was riding out any bucks or spooks during which my natural response would be to sink my weigh into my heels for security. I would ride with my foot in the stirrup as long as I could stand it, then drop my irons, do some stretches/circles with that ankle and then when I felt ready pick up my iron again.

            I was doing all kinds of crazy things with my ankle in order to try to lesson pain/pressure without realizing it. That combined with some nerve damage from prior injuries that actually makes it hard for me to feel what parts of my ankle/foot are doing sometimes meant that I was often rolling my ankle or turning my foot in strange ways that were actually leading to more pain. Some lessons with an instructor who is excellent at observing and addressing flaws in the rider's position were very helpful. Even though we had to work in short bursts, getting my body properly aligned again was a huge help in reducing pain.

            I also had some chiropractic and massage work done on myself as I was starting to ride again. Walking with crutches and being in a walking cast had made me so crooked that I could not truly sit straight in the saddle because being crooked had become my normal. The bodywork really helped me.

            I would estimate about 6 months back in the saddle before I really felt normal again. Although trainers and others said they stopped seeing a difference around month 4, it still didn't feel quite right to me.


            • #7
              Not the same, but since your bigger issue seems to be soft tissue -
              I had complete reconstruction surgery on my ankle years back. I was completely non weight bearing for 4 months, had a walking boot for another month (started riding again once in the walking boot), and was not fully back to my normal riding for a year.
              "The best of any breed is the thoroughbred horse..." - GHM



              • #8
                I fell off and spiral fractured my fibula last fall. Had surgery and was non-weight bearing for about 4 months. I started walking on a Monday after about a month of intensive PT and was riding on Thursday. I ditched the PT very soon after that.

                The first few rides my leg was so atrophied and tight that it was basically paralyzed. I couldn't get the sole of my boot parallel to the ground, much less get my heel down. Like ParadoxFarm, I also rode with totally different stirrup lengths for a few weeks.

                I was surprised that using stirrups wasn't painful - what really hurt was posting trot, and landing from jumps, because my ankle didn't have the strength and flexibility to absorb concussion. I just did what I could, and a little bit more every week. Posting trot was painful for maybe two months but in general, especially at the beginning, riding was much more pleasant than walking!

                I've been back riding for 5 months now and feel almost totally normal. My heel goes down no problem, I rarely have pain while riding, and I'm often riding a hole shorter than I did before the break. My ankle does feel sore if I've done a lot of half-seat and after a jump lesson but nothing two Advil won't take care of. I also realized last week after dropping my stirrups that I can't easily pick the stirrup on my 'bad' side back up - that inward nudge of the toe isn't a movement that comes up in any other situation, so I am working on that.
                Last edited by 173north; Aug. 8, 2017, 06:31 PM.
                www.manhattansaddlery.com - New York City's tack shop since 1912


                • #9
                  I'm following this because I'm about two weeks back to riding after breaking both my ankles in a fall one in early May (spiral fractures). I had surgery and plates in both. I'm a little scared about how it will feel when I get off onto the ground from my 17h horse, so I've put a big water trough up next to my three-step mounting block for getting on and off.

                  The doctor said 12 weeks until I could ride, and when that time came around, he said he'd prefer I was walking 100%, but I didn't want to wait any longer. I was about 90% when I started riding. I've done 12 sessions of PT, about twice a week, and my therapist wants me to continue since I have some muscle tightness in the lower part of my calves, but we're waiting to hear if insurance will cover more than 12 sessions. She did some therapeutic massage last week, and I'm still painful!

                  I'm an eventer, and I've only ridden in my dressage saddle so far. I'm not sure about shorter stirrups with my jumping saddle yet. Posting the trot is getting better, but I can definitely feel the plates on the outside. The inside of my right foot is giving me some trouble, and was what had been making going down stairs hard. It just feels stiff.

                  But overall cantering and walking feel pretty good. I've done some trot poles but no jumping yet. My lower leg just isn't strong enough yet to hold him, and I find myself gripping with my thighs a lot. As a result our downward transitions are a bit unbalanced, but he's doing his best with me! I'm hoping I'll be ready for a dressage show in September, and I am praying to fit in a few events this fall so it's not a total washout of a year!


                  • #10
                    Soft tissue takes way longer to heal (but you already know that).

                    When I started back I lowered the stirrup on my bad side by several holes. I could rest the ball of my fmoot in it and help balance myself, but I did not ask my ankle to bear weight or flex.

                    At least that gets you back in the saddle so the rest of your body does not lose condition. And, gradually, your ankle will tell you when you can raise your stirrup and put a little more weight on that side. Everyone can give you time lines that worked for them, but the best judge of what works for you is your own ankle.

                    Years later, I still ride 1/2 hole longer on that side and my heel is not as far down, but I feel balanced, and that is what is important.
                    "He lives in a cocoon of solipsism"

                    Charles Krauthammer speaking about Trump


                    • #11
                      I broke my Talus in late 2009 in a car accident. Because of the soft tissue damage, the first doc never saw the break, and brushed me off. So I ended up in a boot, and walked on it for 2 months. Went to a different doc - he saw the break, put me in a cast and on crutches for a month. PT after the cast, for maybe a month or two.

                      So, no riding for 4 months, from the initial accident to after the cast. I did have pain when I started riding, and a really hard time sinking into my heels. PT helped a lot, but the pain never went away. Doctor released me saying there was nothing more he could do.

                      I have since had 2 surgeries to remove scar tissue (my nemesis). One in 2012, one in 2015. After the first surgery, the doc basically said, "Ok, you're good to go, byeeeee." I started riding immediately after the stitches came out. Scar tissue came back, equalling more pain. Second surgery was with a different doc, who was very, very conservative.

                      With my last surgery, it was no riding for 4 months MINIMUM. Non weight bearing for 2 solid months, partial for 2 more months. Of course, he did say, "I know you're an equestrian, and you're going to ignore this, but NO RIDING." I mostly listened.

                      And then I did PT, forEVER.

                      What I found, in each of these cases, was that I felt better in the saddle (or in the stirrups) if I had been doing PT. My therapist is awesome, and really focuses on exercises and stretches that will help me in the saddle. We had to talk about it and fool around a bit with the exercises, but I don't think I would have the same range of motion or stability I have now without PT.

                      TLDR; Go back to your doc and ask for a script for PT, and don't be afraid to talk to your therapist about exactly what you need when riding - both stability-wise and range of motion-wise. Trust me, it will help!


                      • #12
                        I broke the medial malleolus off my tibia in 2010, and at the time had surgery with hardware to repair it. A year later I had surgery again to remove the hardware because it was bothering me while I rode. After that really didn’t have a problem with it riding.

                        Fast forward 4-5 years and at some point in that time I unknowingly sprained it or did something to it. Went to my orthopedist and got an MRI and tore two separate tendons/ligaments on two separate occasions . Was in a cast twice and air boot twice for healing. I’m now waiting for another MRI to check because my ankles been bothering me again.

                        All in all, the broken ankle never really bothered me afterwards, but the soft tissue damage has been awful. Add to that that I don’t exactly know when I did or how I did, and that I keep damaging them somehow, it’s been a headache for me with respect to my riding.

                        All I can say is good luck, do exactly what the doctors and therapists say, a week earlier of riding isn’t worth it if you are in pain for the rest of your life, and DON’T FORCE ANYTHING.


                        • #13
                          Love that you posted this! I've had many ankle fractures and problems. I personally find when I'm riding a bunch that I need to tape up my ankle with sport tape. I have used vet wrap in emergencies, but the sport stuff works better. I don't need much anymore, but when I go two days without any tape my whole leg starts hurting. Please take this seriously as it is very easy to mess up. I need to take mine more seriously as well. My knee has begun hurting due to the way I ride when I am not taped up I believe.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by EAY View Post

                            I do worry whether I will ever get back the same flexibility. Also wonder if maybe I would have been better off with surgery. I never actually saw an MD (not in the ER or at the orthopedic practice) but I assumed that the surgeon reviewed my x-rays. I do think a lot of what I'm dealing with now is the soft tissue injuries.
                            The ER didn't refer you to an ortho to follow-up with? When I broke my ankle ages ago, I was out for about 8 months - 5 months or so cast/crutches; 2-3 months gradual move to weight bearing. Got back to riding as soon as I was weight bearing. Little flexibility in ankle, even though I had "weight" in my heel my heel pointed up and then straight. I did get some PT (not nearly as good as they do now) and worked out with weights regularly. Took up side saddle for a bit too LOL. I did a good job breaking my ankle so I never got much flexibility back and still ride with my right stirrup about 2 holes longer than the left.

                            Since OP says Pt is out due to high deductible insurance, if they belong to a gym, maybe set up an appointment with trainer there for exercises to help strengthen ankle?


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by EAY View Post
                              Maybe I just need to push it a bit more. I've only recently started going out without my brace, and that seems to have helped my range of motion. I'm hoping to avoid PT (thanks high deductible health insurance ) so I'm doing exercises at home.

                              Maybe I'll try riding with only one stirrup. I had it down pretty far but there was still pressure. I actually prefer bareback to no stirrups. I've got wonky hips and posting without stirrups kills them.

                              DD broke her ankle (posterior malleous) in mid June. She was casted & non weight bearing for five weeks. The doc was so happy with how the bone healed, they let her go back to using it at that time. She did have a lot of soft tissue damage as well. She's been doing PT 2x weekly since getting her cast off. She started riding/jumping again (one stirrup) a week after her cast came off. Her PT told her to listen to her ankle and not push too hard. We asked him about using a brace, tape, etc. and he told us that it's better to be a little slower to rebuild flexibility & strength without the brace.

                              It might be worth the $$ (our PT charges just under $100 a visit) to go at least once to get exercises to do on your own that are appropriate for your own situation.
                              A proud friend of bar.ka.


                              • #16
                                I also use an ankle support bandage/wrap when I rode/ride and sometimes at work or any time I would be on my feet for a long period of time - just the kind you can pick up at the drugstore


                                • Original Poster

                                  I've been trying to do some PT on my own and have found that riding bareback has helped with strengthening the atrophied muscles as well as range of motion in the joint (from flexing the ankle). I tried riding again in a saddle with the one stirrup really long about a week ago but found it still too painful so have been going with one stirrup. Rode with two stirrups today (one long) because I wanted to get the green bean jumping again, and while pretty painful was manageable, though I might go back to bareback for the next week or so.

                                  As for a brace, I went from a boot to a brace but found that I didn't really make much progress until I started going without it.