Duration of the healing process
The time required for an external ankle fracture to heal depends largely on its severity and the resulting therapeutic method. In principle, a distinction is made between operative and non-operative, i.e. conservative, therapy. Non-surgical therapy begins immediately after the injuring trauma and one of its most important components is the immobilization of the foot with a plaster cast or a splint.
However, if the symptom of an external ankle fracture is swelling of the ankle, the foot is not immobilised definitively in a splint or cast specially adapted to the foot until the swelling has subsided. The recovery period of the swollen ankle takes on average three days to two weeks. After that, the ankle is immobilised, which should last for six weeks.
After this period and the removal of the cast or splint, the load on the ankle and foot can slowly be regained. Here, physiotherapy is of great importance, since the immobilization of the foot over six weeks has caused a muscle loss in the leg, which now has to be compensated. If the outer ankle fracture is treated surgically, it is also necessary to wait until the ankle is swollen to be able to operate.
After the operation, the foot is immobilised in a plaster cast for six weeks. During this time, the surgical wound will also heal. After removal of the plaster, physiotherapy is also very important in this therapy method in order to build up muscles and to regain the full range of motion as before the external ankle fracture.
One difference of the surgical method compared to the conservative method is the required re-operation. This takes place at the earliest one year after the first operation and serves to remove the previously inserted metal in the form of screws and plates, which are now no longer needed to fix the bone pieces, as they have grown together again through healing. After this second operation, however, the healing time is only about two weeks, as only the wound healing takes place here.
In summary, on average, both surgical and conservative therapy takes at least six weeks, during which time the external ankle fracture leads to a reduction in quality of life due to its immobilization. However, much more time is needed before the ankle can be fully loaded, since after the healing process is complete, the ankle must first become accustomed to the new load with a gradual and slow increase in its intensity. Despite individual differences, everyday activities such as running or sports such as swimming and cycling should be possible again without problems and without pain about two months after the start of treatment. However, sports where higher loads are applied to the ankle should be paused for several months.