What to Expect from a Physical Therapy After a Broken Foot

broken foot treatment

 

Did you know that fractures are the most common large-organ injury? Foot fractures make up a good portion of these. Luckily, you can get back on your feet in no time if you follow a few simple steps. Not actual steps though, as you’ll probably have to stay off your foot for a while as it heals. Especially if you’re dealing with a broken foot treatment.

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about broken foot treatment, from physical therapy to prevention.

Understanding the Foot

Your foot has 26 bones. The individual bones are referred to as tarsals, metatarsals, and phalanges

Tarsals refer to 7 bones in the hindfoot and ankle region. Metatarsals are your five midfoot bones connecting the tarsals to your toes. Finally, your toes are called your phalanges and each has three bones per toe, except for your big toe having two.

You can break these bones in a number of ways, but most common are falls, something crushing it, and overuse injuries. In fact, these are some of the 10 most common workplace injuries—so it’s all too common. Injuries to the foot and ankle region are responsible for a large number of workers’ compensation claims in the United States.

You may suspect your foot is broken if you have bruising, pain, and swelling, among other symptoms.

There are different categories of broken bones (known as fractures). It’s important to know a little bit about what you’re potentially dealing with, as different types of fractures have different recovery times and different broken foot treatment.

Comminuted Fracture

This is the type of break you’ll experience if something heavy falls on your foot and shatters bone. The bone(s) break off into three or more pieces.

These types of fractures often require orthopedic surgery where screws, pins, plates, or rods are inserted to put the bone pieces back in place. These can be temporary or permanent, depending on your situation.

Open Fractures

If you have an injury that’s high impact or involves something sharp, you may end up with open skin. This could happen from an object cutting you or from your bone dislodging and breaking the skin itself. 

These injuries must be handled by medical professionals to prevent infection or other complications.

Stress Fractures

Stress fractures are small cracks in the bone and are often caused by repeated stress. Yes, overuse can cause bones in your foot to break.

Often, recovery from stress fractures requires immobilizing the foot so it can heal on its own.

Stable Fractures

Stable fractures occur when the broken parts of the bone line up evenly and are barely out of line.

Stable fractures tend to heal up nicely without surgery.

Transverse Fractures

Transverse fractures are simply breaks that make a horizontal fracture line.

Additional Injuries

Depending on how you became injured, you may have other injuries besides a broken bone.

You could have co-occurring injuries to other parts of your foot. In addition to 26 bones, there are 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your foot that can become bruised or damaged.

For example, if you hurt your foot by tripping and falling, you could have gotten another co-injury. This could be a concussion, an injured hip, or injury to muscles, ligaments, or tendons.

An injury to your ligaments, the tissue that connects muscles to bones, is known as a sprain. An injury to your tendons, the tissues connecting bone to bone, is known as a strain. 

What Happens After You Break Your Foot

After you are injured with one of the previously listed fractures, your body will send healing agents to the damaged site to try to help it.

This is why the injury becomes swollen, hot, or bruised.

Then you’ll experience limited to no mobility in the foot due to the swelling and pain. Fortunately, doctors often put you in a splint, cast, or boot to allow the bone to heal, so you won’t have to experience the pain from standing on it.

However, there are minor complications with immobilizing your foot and leg like this. 

When we don’t use our muscles regularly, they begin to weaken. This may create imbalances between your leg muscles, joints, and overall symmetry. 

When you break your foot, one of the first things you should do is arrange to see a doctor so you can see what recovery looks like and the time it will take.

Healing Time

In general, a broken foot may take anywhere from 1 to 3 months to heal. It depends on:

  • How you injured it
  • What bones are involved
  • What type of fracture(s) you have
  • If it needs to be set back in place, also known as reduction
  • If it needs surgery
  • Various personal details, like age, health history, and so on

When you go to the doctor, they are likely to take skeletal x-rays of your foot. If for some reason the x-ray doesn’t provide clarity, they may get a bone scan, CT (computed tomography) scan, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). 

To ensure your foot and other co-occurring injuries heal properly, it’s important to seek out medical care. You may or may not need surgery as well as physical therapy.

Seeing a doctor will also help you understand your limitations. You can read tips online, of course, but ultimately a medical professional will advise you on your particular case. Plus, they can outline the amount of time it will take to heal.

Types of Broken Foot Treatment

After your initial visit, your doctor may refer you to an occupational or physical therapist.

In short, a physical therapist helps you to help your body return to normal function. An occupational therapist, on the other hand, focuses on helping you get back to doing specific activities of daily living (ADL).

When you get your splint, cast, or boot, a therapist can teach you the right way to walk with an assistive device, such as crutches. 

Generally, crutches should be sized so that they are two finger widths below the armpit and allow the elbow to stay bent with the wrist straight. 

If you have any concerns about how to do certain daily functions, you can ask the therapist to show or tell you how to do it. These may be personal activities like getting in a car, in the bathtub, and so on, or work-related activities, like signing your name and other job-specific tasks.

Otherwise, you’ll mainly just see them after you get your splint, cast, or boot off, usually after 6 to 8 weeks of wearing it. 

Purpose of Physical Therapy

The physical therapist has goals to help you regain normal function, including weight-bearing, range of motion, and strength.

Weight-bearing is a term used for putting your body weight on your foot. Your weight-bearing ability is at 100% when you can stand on your foot without any pain or discomfort and it’s at 0% when you can’t put any pressure on it at all. 

The range of motion refers to the full movement of a joint, measured in degrees counting up from 0 in resting position.

For your foot, this includes the ankle movements rolling inward (inversion) and ankle movements rolling outward (eversion). When fully rolled to either side, most people have about 35 degrees of range of motion. 

It also includes flexion (toes towards the body) and extension (toes away from the body), as well as the joints at the base of your toes. 

Weight-bearing, range of motion, and strength are based on what is normal for your age and demographics.

What Physical Therapists Do

The physical therapist will assess where you’re at on your first appointment. They’ll observe and record things like your weight-bearing abilities, range of motion, and strength in your foot.

They’ll also help you with any co-occurring injuries you got at the time of breaking your foot, such as a sprained ankle

From there, they will develop a plan to get you back to your activities of daily living (ADL) and your work. It will be based on you as an individual as well as what’s generally done for people who suffer from a broken foot.

What You’ll Experience

When you go into your therapy appointments, your therapist will have a plan of movements for you to do.

These may include picking up marbles or items with your foot, scrunching and sliding a towel across the floor with your foot, resistance band training, or various strength training activities.

If you haven’t been to the gym in a while, don’t worry—none of the exercises will be Olympic training material. They may challenge you, but you can trust that the therapist wouldn’t do anything to cause you further harm.

Appointments may last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on your injury and what needs to be healed. 

After you put in your hard work, the therapist may apply ice, heat, or electronic stimulation to your foot or leg. 

Ice is used to shrink your blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the area and thus decreasing pain and swelling.

Heat is used for the opposite reason—it opens up your blood vessels and allows more healing agents to go to your foot. 

Sometimes adding ice or heat can cause more pain, depending on your injury. A therapist will be able to differentiate which option is right for your circumstance.

Electronic stimulation (e-stim) is often applied in addition to ice. Basically, a few sticky pads are placed on the area of concern. These pads allow gentle electrical pulses to contract your muscles repeatedly.

The idea of e-stim is that it improves blood flow and may also block sensations of pain.  

Things You Can Do at Home

Your therapist may send you home with some “homework”. 

These will be exercises that you should do at home to promote faster healing. Your therapist should show you the exercises so you know how to do them. It’s up to you to follow through with this step so that you can recover fully and quickly. 

Otherwise, you’ll want to follow weight-bearing and immobilization recommendations.

If you are told to limit certain activities on your injured foot, do it. Being stubborn or trying to rush the healing process may cause further damage.

You can also help your foot out by following the RICE regimen. This means rest, ice, use compression and elevate your foot. Ask your doctor about compression—otherwise, the other three parts are generally safe and good for your injury.

If you experience pain or swelling, you can take over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen.

Prevention

After you get through with your recovery, you may be more inclined to prevent future foot damage.

This means wearing proper footwear for the activities you do, such as non-slip or steel-toed shoes. It also means only taking on activities you are equipped to handle (for example, lifting a heavy item) in a safe environment (e.g. when the floors are dry and clear of obstacles).

Finally, foot injury prevention includes general safety guidelines such as wearing glasses if you need them and a seatbelt in the car. On the note of car safety, you can also prevent needless foot injury by keeping your feet on the floor of the car rather than putting them on the dash or outside of the window. 

Get Back on Your Feet

You want to get back on your feet and back to work, right? We want that for you, too.

Follow these guidelines for broken foot treatment to ensure a speedy recovery. If you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to ask the health care providers involved with your case. 

If you haven’t yet sought out medical treatment for your auto accident or work-related injury, let us help you find a solution. Call 1-800-897-8440 and we can help you find an experienced physician near you and begin the process.

Otherwise, keep reading our blog for more information on injuries and what to do about them.