Recovery after broken leg

Hi there,

I broke my leg (fibia and tibula) in a cyclocross race on Saturday. It was only the second race of the season, so I’m pretty disappointed.

I’m on crutches for six weeks and then in a moon boot for a further six weeks.

Any tips on minimising fitness loss and returning to cycling?

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Sorry to hear. I actually broke my tib/fib pretty severely (they called it a pilon fracture) in CX training camp a few years ago. In my case I had surgery, plates, screws… the whole magilla. I was off the leg entirely for about 4 months and didn’t have much muscle left by then. So I’m clearly not the guy to answer your how to maintain question. But I can definitely commiserate. Heal first. Hang in there.

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Thanks @dbf . I had to have surgery, including plates and screws. I’m looking at being off the leg for 6 weeks.

How did your return to cycling go after that four months off?


I did this riding home from work when I was 21. My foot was facing backwards and the bottom section of tibia was protruding from my leg. I got up immediately after the impact and tried to walk away which must’ve been a sight to see.
I was worried about my bike at the time.

The surgeons told me to quit my carpentry apprenticeship and look at taking up golf. I bought two new pairs of runners instead.
4 months later I was off crutches and out running again. The muscle wasting sucks, but it comes back pretty quickly. 6 weeks shouldn’t be too bad.

It took me 18 years to get back on a bike. In the meantime I did loads of other things. Most of them way more scary than riding a bicycle.
I figure you can either wrap yourself in cotton wool, or you can put it down to experience and move on. In that regard cycling on a trainer has got to be one of the safest, low impact forms of leg work around. As soon as the doc says it’s ok I’d be clocking back on.

Heal up and try to stay positive.

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Definitely slowly at first! My break was in August '16. I was then doing PT as soon and often as they’d let me. Think I started putting weight on the leg (with a boot) in October. Started doing short (as little as 10 min. at first), easy trainer rides in between PT days in November and began to ever so slowly build up volume.

Biggest challenge at that time was I had almost no visible muscles remaining in that leg to start and my ankle flexibility (toe up/down) was reduced by the break (which was just above the ankle).

So come February of 2017 I was using the leg in everyday life, but it was still much weaker than before and than my good leg. One day that lack of muscle helped the meniscus in my knee pop when doing an otherwise innocuous squat in the kitchen. That led to a knee scope surgery and another bike hiatus until mid-March.

Once clear of that easier knee recovery I got back on the trainer guns blazing (so to speak!) and started to really increase volume. At first I didn’t want to do the intensity to do an FTP test so guessed a starting point of 165W (had been around 230W when I crashed). For first Sweet Spot Base blocks I simply increased my FTP 3-5% each week - which seemed to work really well.

In the first weeks after my injury I’d set a goal for myself of a really long gravel grinder in August the next year. So by August of 2017 I’d gotten back into some shape and my FTP was about 85% of where I’d peaked before. Completed the gravel grinder and was stoked! So that was about 6 months of training to get back to pretty good. (Included a screenshot of that time period training graph below)

Now the almost two years since have been a much slower progression from that point, until right about now I think I’m finally back at the FTP I’d peaked at before.

For me, that ankle flexibility thing hasn’t improved enough to even consider going back to CX :frowning:, as running and jumping just still hurt too much and I’m too competitive with myself to try to do CX and not go hard in the off-the-bike moments.

Another thing I did during my initial downtime that was a big help was I taught myself and took up wheelbuilding. Kept my spirit in the game and was a good use of the emotional energy that needed to go into cycling somehow.

Happy to help with anything. Good luck!

19%20PM

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Those images look a lot like mine :slightly_smiling_face:

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I remember all of the weird aches and pains I had at first. There are still loads of things that can irritate my knee or ankle on that leg. Easier than the other leg at least.

If it makes you feel any better, I was doing kickboxing training 5 years after I did mine. Not for competition, but I was in the ring sparring hard plenty of times. That leg was my main defence against kicks and it held up just fine.
The main issue I’ve had that never went away is recurring tightness all the way from the bottom of my foot, up the back of my leg and into my lower back. My PT tells me it all stems from not being able to lift the front of that foot up properly. Lots of stretching keeps it at bay.

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Minor victory today.

39 days since surgery and allowed to start weight bearing.

I reduced my FTP by about 25% and did Dans.
I plan to do a week or so of similar rides and see how I feel with a view to starting SSB.

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@daviddiviny - good luck with the recovery. Bone mending requires a lot of calories. Don’t shortcut your nutrition and build your efforts slowly.

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I did easy Zwift rides after ankle surgery. I didn’t worry about FTP or a training plan for 9 months. I just gradually increased my mileage - first on Zwift, and then outdoors. When I felt like I had recovered enough, I did a ramp test, and began an extended period of base training (polarized). A year after surgery, I started the TR plans proper, and am building towards Leadville this August. Bottom line is that it takes time. Especially if you are older (I’m 46).

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I broke the neck of my femur which required an operation to fit a dynamic hip screw. The good news is that 10 weeks later I managed to complete Lands End to John O’Groats (1000 mile). It probably wasn’t the recommended recovery regime but the PT didn’t think it would do any harm. My tips for recovery

Reframe your goals and build in some realistic objectives
I was back on the turbo with no resistance as soon as the PT said it was okay
Try and get appropriate medical advice from someone who understands cycling. If not you will just get the stock answers of what you can and can’t do
In early the stages just focus on getting the muscles working correctly forget about performance
Recovering the last few percentage points of strength takes much longer than expected. After 6 months I thought I had completed my rehabilitation but I should have carried on with the strength work for longer

Best of luck

Shattered patella for me in late 2017. Obviously not the same injury, but still out of commission for a bit. I was in really good shape and had some big events coming up, so the injury was a big bummer. I’m a pretty upbeat guy, but I think the emotional side was almost as bad as the physical recovery. It’s really hard to fill that gap in your life when you are stuck on the couch. Once I was able to start the rehab process, it was all good. It was really painful and hard, but the rehab actually filled the void pretty well since I had goals and workouts daily to keep me motivated.

I had a good dr. who wasn’t set of the “standard” recovery path/timeline and considered my background and strong motivation to get back on bike ASAP. I wouldn’t blatantly ignore a Dr.'s advice, but If you have a dr. that just wants to “go by the book” on recovery, I’d at least get some additional opinions. I was on a stationary trainer 5 weeks post surgery (not even able to turn the pedals all the way around at first) and was doing Zwift D races within a few weeks after that. Dr. told me what to watch out for and I didn’t push too hard. Cycling is hard to beat as a rehab tool because it’s not weight bearing. The quicker you can start doing stuff, the better.

Thanks all above for sharing your experiences.

I wanted to post an update to give hope to anyone in a similar situation.

I just completed SSB 1 and 2 medium volume - about 18 weeks since surgery. I retested today and am back at my pre-surgery fitness, maybe a few watts more!

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Damn, I’m jealous. Had knee surgery over a year and a half ago and am still not 100%.

Congratulations @daviddiviny :+1::+1:

I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who isn’t carrying some sort of injury.

It totally depends on the type of break, mechanism of injury, associated soft tissue injury, etc. I’ve broken my tib/fib 3 times (left, then right, then right again). The first two were low impact injuries and I got training again after 12 weeks, back to full strength in 4-6 months. The most recent break was almost two years ago. High energy impact, severely comminuted fractures. I was able to do PT and swim, but no running or cycling for 6 months. I’m just now getting to the point where my strength is back and have no pain with normal training.

I read a study in the orthopedic literature that the average return to function for all adults was 1 to 5 years after tibial fracture. I think most of us here are in better shape than the average, but don’t worry if it takes you a while to get back to normal.

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I broke my ankle on Sunday Sept 8 in a cyclocross race and had surgery that Friday Sept 13. I’m in a splint wrap now and will be non-weight bearing for 6 weeks. My orthopedic surgeon works with athletes and he’s all for me getting on the trainer without resistance as soon as I can move my ankle again. Hopefully I will back to structured training by the end of December. Unfortunately this means no CX Nats for me this year!

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Sorry to hear @velofog. How did your CX ankle break happen? I’m curious because my severe tib/fib break (just above my ankle) was in a CX training camp - just slid out in a fast, grassy turn and everything went wrong hitting the ground.

Sounds like a similar crash…both bones are broken. The tibia was broken off right at the bottom and the fibula is cracked like the images above. I have two screws in the bottom of the tibia and a plate with screws up my fibula.

I lost it in a slow slick grassy section. The doctor thinks I twisted my ankle when I went down. My guess is my toe spikes and shoe got grip on the green edges of the course. My Garmin shows I was only going 8.5 MPH (14 kph) when I crashed. I was in the top 10 in the Cat 4 45+ race and still moving up too!

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Sounds pretty similar to my crash too! Shoe got stuck between some tree roots

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