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Hiking after a badly broken ankle

Hey guys! Would love some insight from those of you who have had a broken ankle that required surgery. 

I broke my right ankle July 4th, 2020. Without going into too much detail, it was a pretty severe break and dislocation. I wound up needing two different surgeries, had a plate and a handful of screws put into my ankle, and I didn't walk again at all until November. I had several months of physical therapy, and was released from my doctor in late December/early January (can't quite remember now.) 

A bit over a year later, I'm still having issues with my ankle. It locks up on occasion and it becomes very difficult to walk. It also will hurt, seemingly at random, up and down the area where the plate is located, and behind my ankle bone. It varies in how much it hurts. Sometimes I can take a Tylenol and get on with my day. Other times, it absolutely throbs and I struggle to walk. It comes and goes with no really obvious trigger, sometimes lasting all day, and other times lasting until I sit down for a few minutes. 

I recently went to see my doctor over this issue, and he did tell me that I have a small lipoma tumor on my ankle (non-cancerous and pretty easy to treat) but that it probably wouldn't cause any pain. He didn't seem to feel like there was much he could do about my issues, nor did he seem to think I needed my plate taken out. He really just gave me a steroid shot and some anti-inflammatory medication to take, and sent me on my way. 

I was so disappointed because I'm really wanting to start hiking again. I've tried so hard to be patient, but with these continuing problems, I'm feeling like I'll never really be able to hike again. While I have a LOT of good days and only a sporadic bad day, I'm scared to death of getting three or four miles into a trail and having my ankle lock-up and shut down on me. Has anyone on here experienced this type of situation and bounced back? Or had to have a plate taken back out after ankle surgery? Any advice or insight would be so great!

9 Replies

Hi @j_immel24 yes I broke my ankle in a ski accident, well, really, a lady broke it for me when she plowed into me causing me to spin around in a way that the binding didn't release causing my fibula to snap in the boot. So....a plate and 7 pins, still there.

the only pain is if a boot or flat surface rubs the exterior, some of the screw heads are not flush against the plate so when rubbed tend to be, uh, sensitive.

what I did is get some very comfortable trail runners/walking shoes and started with VERY short walks around the block, every single day, slowly building up the muscles, never over exerting, then increasing my distance over time.

good luck

ps - the one thing you can't do is just sit around and not work the foot muscles, they'll never get stronger.  but I'm not a doctor, lol

pps - I believe that motivation is key here, I think better than just wanting to 'go hiking', is to plan with friends a specific, really terrific hiking trip, that you'll be excited to train for.

REI Member Since 1979

Very good advice! And I'm glad to know there are others who have recovered from similar injuries/surgeries and gotten back to the outdoors. I do have a trip in mind, a three day-two night backpacking trip, only a few hours from our home. We were actually in the middle of training for it when I got hurt last year, and I am very eager to get back to it. Thank you for the suggestions!

That's what the doctor told me when I broke several toes, dislocated one and messed up the soft tissue.  Get out there however much you can and it will begin to recover is what I was told 🙂 

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I had a hairline fracture in highschool that cause my right ankle to swell up to grapefruit size, but luckily did not require surgery.  I know it isn't equivalent to yours, but I found that wearing a flexible brace when exercising/playing sports after helped to keep me from reinjuring it, which unfortunately happened quite often for years.  As the Dr told me, a rigid brace will not allow the muscles to regain strength, but a thin, flexible brace that isn't too tight offers enough of a safety cushion to prevent painful reinjury while allowing strength to rebuild.  NSAIDs only work so well and are not a good thing to take long term, hopefully you are done with those soon!  I also like to wear boots and cross country ski boots with high ankle support.  As a result a use combination skate/classic boots when using classic technique on cross country skis.  Luckily alpine boots are very rigid the whole way up.  Hoping you heal quickly!

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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I feel like such a ding-dong for not thinking about using a brace, and I'm glad to know about the difference in flexible vs rigid braces! I'll hit up Amazon this afternoon and see what I can find!

I feel your pain! I broke my right femur and both ankles in a terrible car accident in 1977.  It took 6 months to get back to work and shortly after that I began to experience pain and stiffness in my ankles. The culprit was arthritis. I would feel OK while I was moving, but after I sat down for a few minutes my ankles would get very stiff and sore. Still I was determined to continue hiking and rock climbing/mountaineering. Anyway, it's been a very long time, I have managed to hike and climb all over North America, but always worried that they would get so bad that I would have real problems getting out. It helped to have companions with me, just in case. 

That sounds like a really intense injury to recover from! But very inspiring to hear about both your recovery and subsequent adventures! I think it will be at least a few years before I feel like I've recovered well enough to solo hike again. 



I experienced a cycling accident in 2018.  In addition to an open fracture of my left clavicle, I fractured my left pelvis in 3 places that required several plates and several screws to stabilize. I subsequently required a left hip replacement as a result. 

Some thoughts:

It can take up to 2 years until you reach whatever your new baseline will be. Something to be said the a prescription of ‘Tincture of Time’. 

You might consider re-engaging with your physical therapist for further leg/ankle rehab treatment to include strengthening, range of motion and proprioception work. You might consider aqua therapy. 

low impact activities like the elliptical and cycling can help with leg/ankle strength and range of motion. Several months of non-weight bearing can result in significant atrophy of the entire extremity that can take months-years to fully regain.  Like a previous person eluded to: stay active.

There’s a topical NSAID called Volteran gel that may be of benefit vs taking pills

Tumeric has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Some say CBD oil does as well

Best of luck!

PS: It took a while but I’m back on the road. 




Hi @j_immel24 - I'm so sorry to hear about your ankle injury but proud of you for still trying to get after it!

While I haven't injured my ankle, I can tell you a little about my husband's story. He shattered both his ankles in 28 places and required 7 screws and plates in both - they were 2 identical injuries but in 2 SEPARATE accidents. What kind of bad luck is that??!! 

The first injury he didn't rehab it like he should have, and he developed really bad arthritis that required a significant surgery this February, where he had to have his ankle fused. The second injury was a few years after the first, and he did lots of physical therapy and was a really good patient - and that ankle has not given him any problems even though it was an identical injury. SO, the point of this story is to do as much rehab and physical therapy as you can until you feel like you are healed... and even if you have been released from PT, see if your doctor can write you another referral. 

I would also recommend looking into myofascial release therapy. With any injury, you develop scar tissue and this therapy tries to break apart scar tissue. It's something that has helped many people in my family.

I hope this helps, and good luck on your road to recovery!

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