This small bone bears only 17% of your body weight but if it’s fractured, you’ll be staying off your feet for a while.
Sprained ankles, fractured ankles, what’s the big deal? It’s one of the most common injuries known to man or woman. However, as any veteran of a fractured fibula can tell you, this one makes itself known. Not only is it painful to rest your weight on a fractured fibula, it’s also not advised as a method of self-diagnosis. The old-wives question, Can you rest your weight on the ankle? (to test if it’s broken) is not a good diagnostic tool.
Your first move if you’re feeling pain in the ankle should be to call the clinic. We will order x-rays to determine the nature and extent of the injury. Second, take the weight off. It does you no good to try to tough it out.
While the fibula is the smaller of two lower leg bones (the other is the tibia), it is somewhat vulnerable in contact sports such as football, soccer or lacrosse. (There’s a reason for wearing shin guards in soccer.) The fibula has also been known to fracture in sports that involve twisting, such as basketball or skiing.
A good warm-up session and maintaining strength and flexibility in the legs are the best means of protection against fibular fractures. Patients with metabolic disorders, hormone problems or nutritional deficiencies have a greater risk.
Fibula Healing, Quickly and Completely
Fibular fractures treatment usually take four to six weeks, as long as the patient doesn’t try to return to action too soon. Complications are uncommon, and include:
- Non-union of a bone that doesn’t ‘knit’ back together
- Bone heals in an awkward position
- The bone is shortened by the injury (this can happen in children)
- Surgery leads to infection, bleeding or injury to nerves (rare but not unknown)
- Pressure in the leg disrupts the blood supply, which results in injury to nerves and muscles
Fibula Treatment Should Begin Immediately
When a patient arrives in the clinic with an ankle injury, we usually order x-rays to determine the damage. Ice is applied to reduce swelling, and the leg is elevated. We may recommend a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug to relieve pain. Most patients are advised to use crutches. We may fit the patient with a brace or walking boot to immobilize the lower leg.
Most cases of fibular fracture, if there is not a complete break, can be treated conservatively. Whether or not there is surgery, strengthening and stretching exercises are prescribed to help you regain full range of motion.
How to Rehab When You’re Off Your Feet
The physical therapist will demonstrate exercises that keep the blood flowing and help the tissues heal. The following are considered safe and appropriate for fibular rehab:
- grasp your foot and pull the foot towards you until you feel a gentle stretching at the top of the foot and ankle
- sitting with your ankle crossed over the opposite knee, push your foot downward and rotate it slightly
- while seated, imagine your big toe is a pen and write the alphabet in the air
For more information from the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society on exercises for fibular fracture, check this website.
A fibular fracture can present challenges for patients who’d like to maintain their general conditioning. What can you do when you’re not allowed to walk?
If you are creative, there are ways to work out with only one working leg.
- Rowing, which builds the back, arms, shoulders, chest and leg muscles
- Water exercises such as swimming
- Yoga, which can be as aerobic as you choose
- Training on an elliptical machine with one leg supported
- Floor exercises to work the muscles