Pain after a much movement is ok?

Pain after a much movement is ok?

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My dad recently fractured his ankle whilst taking a small tumble down his stairs at home. Poor dad!

Thankfully, he didn't require surgery and he has just finished his 6 weeks in a moon boot.

I'm sure he is not dissimilar to many of us in that he has not enjoyed the overall experience all that much.

  • He didn't like moving around on crutches and found this quite difficult
  • Too much standing or walking caused him swelling and pain
  • He hasn't been able to drive (and work!) for the last 6 weeks either.

He asked me over our Easter dinner what type of exercise he should now be doing. He had recently heard from his specialist that his fracture had now healed and he no longer needed his boot (woohoo!). But he was frustrated that he was still finding it hard to walk for long periods, and getting up and down his stairs at home still proved to be challenging. He had also noticed that his walking style had changed, and that his foot was still getting sore from time to time. So in no particular order, here is a summary of some of our dinner time discussion about pain, movement and healing after a fracture!

Pain is not always a measure of tissue damage

I reminded Dad that his pain was not always saying that he was causing more damage to his ankle. I explained that our pain experience is also influenced by our environment, our previous experiences, our sleep and stress levels and more! This was news to my dad, so we workshopped some things that might be impacting his overall healing experience and worked through some ways he might be able to accelerate his recovery. Understanding that pain does not always equal damage is one of the best things we can share with our family, friends and clients!

Our previous experiences are powerful

When it came to navigating his stairs, I couldn't help but notice how much Dad's movement patterns had changed significantly since his accident. I explained to Dad that because his accident occurred on the stairs, there was a chance that his brain was being extra-protective when he was needed to navigating them again at home. I re-assured him that this is a totally normal response!! And to remember, that the purpose of pain is to protect us! So I advised him to take his time, and that he was going to need to re-learn this movement pattern again. With every successful passing up or down his stairs, his brain would likely start to recognise that the stairs on their own are not necessarily a threat. I encouraged him to continue to use the rail as this helped his confidence, but re-assured him that he would get his stair climbing mojo back with practise and patience :) 

Movement is needed..but easssssee into it!

Getting the green light from a specialist or health practitioner that you can start moving again is a great milestone after a fracture or similar injury! And even better if you are told you are no longer needed to wear a moon boot :) I reassured Dad that he should gradually start moving again, but to ease into it! We know that movement and exercise is great for so many reasons, but post fracture there were some guidelines I gave Dad to help him navigate these next few weeks.

  • Make an effort to wear nice supportive shoes
  • Take things slow! I reminded him that there was no rush with returning to all his previous activities at the level he was previously accustomed to.
  • Small bite size chunks of activity are desirable over bigger/longer efforts. Any time off your feet or recovering from an injury is going to affect your supporting muscles and joints. It's not uncommon to feel more stiff and sore in other areas after some time of inactivity, so go easy! 
  • Listen to your body! I explained that for Dad, if his foot became swollen and really sore after a day of activity, he had likely done too much. Even the most vigilant of clients can still overdo it without realising, so continuing to listen to your body is an essential skill to develop with or without an injury.

I finished of the conversation with recommending Dad to get back in touch with his local Physiotherapist. It's important to recognise that each clients situation and recovery is unique, and navigating the next phase is best done with professional support. It makes a huge difference to have a health professional guiding your return to activity, and who can help answer all those questions that might pop up as you regain your strength and confidence. Health professionals are also best equipped to give you an idea of the expected time frames for tissue healing, and can help make sure you stay on track to ensure you make a full recovery.

So there you have interesting Easter dinner chat in my neck of the woods :) Feel free to share this with anyone going through a similar experience! And I also recommend speaking to your health care team to receive specifics about your individual situation. 

Happy healing!

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