Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist and a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.
A Long Recovery
Getting Back to Fitness After a Broken Leg
Accidents happen, and sadly many of us will suffer a broken bone at some point in our lifetime. I am a runner and a cyclist, and I know that many of us who are avid athletes feel that we're indestructible. However, a broken bone can quickly convince us otherwise.
Sadly, returning to running after a broken leg is a medium- to long-term process that should never be rushed. Most of us don't earn a living as an athlete, but our passion for physical activities are a huge part of our lives.
A key aspect of the recovery process is not to push yourself too hard or too soon in the quest to get back to where you were before the injury. Speaking from personal experience, a broken leg will really test your patience and perseverance. Even when you regain your ability to walk, pain is a sign that you may be pushing yourself too far. You may need to back off to allow recovery to continue.
Recovery from a broken leg should be more about your long-term health than about being able to return quickly to running or cycling.
If you have to have the area pinned and/or plated, you may require surgery called an open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) to fix the fracture. Whether or not surgery is needed, you will most likely have to wear a cast on your leg for quite some time to allow your leg to heal properly.
How Long Do You Expect to be Out of Action
Getting Back into Running and Exercise After a Stress Fracture
Part of getting back into running begins when you're in the plaster cast. Stress fractures can generally take around 6-8 weeks to heal. It may feel like you're ready to run again a couple of weeks but it's vital to resist this urge as you could put your recovery period back to day 1 and have you potentially walking on crutches for much longer.
This period doesn't have to be one of inactivity as your doctor may be able to recommend suitable alternatives to help maintain your fitness. Pool work like aqua-jogging and swimming are great non-load bearing ways to maintain cardiovascular fitness and enhance strength a short period after your stress fracture.
Factors Affecting Return to Running after a Broken Leg
So exactly when can you commence running again? Whilst everyone is different there are a number of factors which will need to be considered
- How severe your break was
- The requirement for surgery can add additional time
- How successful physiotherapy is
- The level of effort you put into your rehabilitation from the break
Many runners will be able to begin running between three and four months post-break. This timeframe allows your bones to heal and for a return to your pre-injury range of motion and strength levels. At this point you can gradually start to increase volumes and intensity and you should be back to your regular running program within 6-9 months post injury if you allow your fitness to progress gradually.
Cycling is a Great Rehabilitation Activity
Running After a Broken Leg
Once you get the go-ahead from your doctor to get back into running those first few runs WILL be tough and need to be built up to. All the time you spent in plaster will have weakened your leg with a agree of muscle breakdown which will likely be the cause of some discomfort. The key is to ease into running gradually.
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A good initial approach is to alternate between running and walking until you're confident to be back running full-time. Start conservatively and it will benefit you in the long term.
Getting Back Into Runnng
- Ease back into running gradually
- Start walking- add intervals of easy running over time
- Use cycling and elliptical trainers for lower impact exercise
- Alternate days- Don't run at first 2 consecutive days
- Consider surfaces like grass and trails as alternatives to the stresses of pavement running.
Typical Problems Faced After a Broken Leg
When you're getting back into activity and your cast has come off your recovery will still be ongoing and it's likely you will still experience some of the below symptoms which may require further addressing as part of your recovery process
- Swelling at the point of break
- Pain in the leg whilst loading or moving
- Decreased rang of movement and motion.
- Loss of muscle strength
- Tightness from scar tissue
- Reduced balance
- Issues with proprioception
Soft Surfaces Take Away the Stress of the Pavement
Calcium Build-Up After a Bone Fracture
As a stress fracture heals, calcium can deposit at the point of the fracture with the purpose of bone protection. This deposit can place pressure upon other tissues and lead to strange sensations. This can include feelings or numbness or a tingling sensation whilst running and these sensations can last for several months afterwards.
In many cases these sensations should not stop your running, although if you do experience consistent pain at the point of fracture it's best to head back to your doctor for a consultation.
Have You Broken Your Leg?
Have you been in the wars? How did it happen and when are you hoping to get back into running? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Mike on August 24, 2019:
Broke my r tibia and fibula 2.5 years ago while roller skating.
I haven't been roller skating since but started running after 12months.
after 24months I also started yoga ,, because I still found it difficult to kneel.
I stopped running over last winter and found starting up again quite hard work.. so I'll need to ensure continuous training through the year in future.
Laila on June 13, 2019:
Broke my leg Surfing. Right femur broke right in half. Surfing after 3 and a half months. Walking a lot after 5 months with some pain. Able to slightly run now!!
Jerri on May 19, 2019:
2012- open tiba/fibula fracture following motorcycle accident. Three surgeries and 9 months of PT. I still can’t run. Can barely tolerate walking on concrete some days. It’s a bummer.
Fvh on July 26, 2018:
Firstly I hope you are all recovering as best as you can from your surgery.
I fractured my femur in May, so is coming up to 3 months since my surgery to fix internally by rod and screws. I am back on the push bike now, and am glad to be in the open air, but I'm hoping to make a return to running normally by end of Sep. I was running 20 miles a week before the accident.
My limp is still quite bad and walking normally is obviously difficult, but I'm persisting with Physio and all the exercises and stretching every day which is helping.
Better days are not too far away I think.
Jean on March 07, 2018:
Car accident last summer; open fracture, 7 fractures between my tibula and fibula and shattered my ankle (surgeon estimated 50 fractures) external fixation for 10 days then internal fixation, 3 weeks in hospital, walking boot and crutches while out and walker at home. Got the okay to start weight bearing 20% and using exercise bike 6 months in and now 8 months weight bearing as tolerated down to one crutch and walking boot had one screw removed and has relieved a lot of pressure. Not sure how many I have to be honest I never asked but two plates and a rod, a handful of screws and one nail... Previous PT told me I’d never run again but I just switched PTs this week and have been told not to worry I will be okay
James on January 28, 2018:
I snapped my tibia and fibula by falling off my dirt bike at 20/30 mph and it fell on my leg I didn’t have any pins or anything put in they just pulled my leg put it in place and put a plaster cast on I broke them at almost a straight angle I was in a cast for almost 18 weeks it has now been 26 weeks and I am just abouts walking normally with no limp and struggle to run even a bit
Elise H on December 12, 2017:
I had a tibia spinal fracture from skiing less than 2 years ago along with a meniscus tear which were surgically repaired. While my leg has yet to get back to "normal" i have recently fell in love with running. I trained for and ran a 5k in 3 weeks time last month. It took alot of want to do it and it was def not painless but i dont plan on stopping anytime soon. I have found a patella strap works wonders when running. I am 32 years old. Dont ever quit because someone says you cant. I am a nurse and i can tell you doctors dont know for certain, its up to you. I plan on running a 10k in the spring.
Annie H on October 21, 2017:
I was struck by an SUV while on a run crossing a pedestrian walkway last month. Training for my 1st marathon. I was only 2 weeks away from race day! My tibia and ankle both had clean breaks and my other leg has a meniscus tear. I’m in a boot nonweight bearing for 2 more weeks until I see my orthopedic surgeon for X-ray reevaluations. I’m taking things day by day. I’m 24 and will get back to running by the end of the year.The first 2 weeks were emotionally the hardest on me, and I won’t lie, it’s been hard as hell. If you’re reading this and you’re in a similar postition - please just know the worst is over. We have long roads ahead of us and a lifetime of obstacles to face but it will be worth the fight in the end. Get your cries in, eat lots of ice cream, mourn what you’ve lost and then pick yourself up and begin the comeback.
Julie D on October 01, 2017:
My 15yr old son broke his Tibia yesterday during a XC meet. Pretty confidant he was running on a stress fracture as he had been having some occasional pain in that part of his upper shin the last week or so. He's devastated as he was/is a strong runner and big part of his team. Waiting for ortho tomorrow - assume long cast. ER docs don't think it went all the way through, but it looks pretty darn close. Trying to figure out if he'll have any shot at his track season in March (5 months or so). Hoping for a quick recovery for him. This is so hard...
Taylor G on July 17, 2017:
This Christmas I broke my leg sledging and snapped the tibia clean through, I needed surgery and was expected to be on my feet within 2-3 months. However the plate was infected in my leg so they had to re operate 2 more times to clear infection in my leg and even now 7 months later I'm just finishing my course of antibiotics and beginning to walk again without the aid of a boot or crutches (without physio therapy). I just don't know if I'll be able to play football again due to being out so long, anyone here have any ideas? I'm aged 16 if that helps and have been healthy up until this accident
Wyatt H. on June 28, 2017:
I am a runner and I was getting really good at running and then one day while I was at church my friend brought his motorcycle that he practically built, so decided I wanted to ride and I ended up hitting a brick fence and twisting my leg and snapped my tibia, I had a cast for 2 months and a boot for a month and I am about to start physical therapy, hope I get to start running again soon!
Tyler Cooper on May 31, 2017:
I broke my leg 2 weeks before my 20th birthday. I had three open fractures in my leg, my femur, and fib/tib and broke my collarbone. I had a titaniun rod put in my femur and one put into my tibia, with 3 screws in each rod. I race motocross I thought my days of riding were over. I was in a splint for 2 weeks, and was put into a air boot when I went in for getting stitches tooken out. I was on crutches for a total of about 11 weeks, went threw 2 months of physical therapy 2 times a week. Doctor said it's very unusual for all three bones of the leg to break at one time. Every time I went for a checkup I asked when I could ride again, and it was like no body wanted too tell me a answer, or they didn't want too tell me I couldn't. I remounted my bike 5 months later. You never know how much your leg played a role in your daily activities until it's taken away from you. And anybody that is going threw what I did, don't GIVE up, be a inspiration, make a come back. Everything heals, go hard everyday. I had a injury that most would have sold that bike and not looked at another one. I hope this post brings a smile too someone laying in bed, with a broke leg. Worst part is over if your reading this.
Jerri on January 13, 2017:
I broke my leg when I was 21. I was in a bad motorcycle accident and had an open compound fracture of my tibia and fibula. It required external fixation, then an ORIF. I had compartment syndrome as well. Subsequently I had delayed union that required another ORIF with a larger diameter rod. On top of that my meniscus and ACL is severely damaged. I spent about 8 months in therapy. I sporadically tried getting back to my habit of going to the gym, but the pain can get pretty bad. It's been 4 years since my accident. I have only been able to run a half mile since. Pretty disheartening since I'm young and all I want to do is be healthy and active. Even working a long day takes a toll on my leg.