Saturday, March 10, 2018

How to Manage with a Broken Leg

Having broken my right fibula a month ago, I decided to put together an article with some advice on how to deal with it, and some practical advice on how to manage the normal daily activities.

First things first...

Having a broken leg will change your life for a couple of months, then it will be over, and normal life will resume, so don't panic too much, you just need to be patient, and you'll get through this.

Learning and Relearning

You are going to have to learn how to use crutches, and that will require that you relearn to how do a whole lot of things; walking, opening doors, washing, eating, and sleeping. Like all learning processes, there will be mistakes, there will be trail-and-error, there will be frustrations, but treat it as if you've just moved to another country where you are not familiar with the language and the customs, and don't be too hard on yourself, and it'll be OK.

Build a Nest

For several weeks, you are going to be bedbound (or couchbound), so you have to be prepared for that. For the first few weeks it's important to keep your leg elevated to prevent swelling, and I tried a variety of different things for that, including pillows, cushions, foam, a rolled up blanket, and a dog bed(!), what I found is that different things worked better on different days, not sure why, but there you go. What I also found is that no matter what I was using to elevate my leg, sometimes I could keep it in the same position for an hour or so with no discomfort, whereas other times no matter how I positioned my leg it was consistently sore or aching, so be ready for that.

IMPORTANT: Keep your phone within arms reach, and if possible have a phone charger within arms reach as well, people will be phoning you to see how you are doing, and it can be a really good distraction to have a long chat with someone. 

I also kept a notebook and pen with me, to write down anything I needed to remember, and as it was a A4 notebook, I keep all the documentation about the leg break in the notebook, including doctor appointment cards, invoices and bills, leaflets about different medical aids that I picked up at all the hospital visits, basically anything to do with the break.

Keep your painkillers, snacks, drinks, etc. on a tray near you.

Make sure your crutches are always with you, and find someplace that you can consistently place them, I found having them standing up and leaning on something is easier than leaving them lying on the floor beside you. 

I also used a grabber, which I found incredibly useful, to pick things up, and extend my range of influence: 

Those First Steps

Learning to walk with crutches takes a bit of practice, the one thing I learned was to take it slowly, there's no rush, and watch where you are putting the crutches. Keep looking at the ground, because you don't want the crutches to slip, so a loose mat, a spill of water, or a piece of paper on the floor can cause you problems, so just take it slowly and watch where you place your crutches and feet.

It is very important that you get used of using the crutches, you need to do some exercise, and I know it  can be nerve-racking, but it's important to move around, for a lot of reasons, to build up your confidence, to aid your digestion, and to avoid developing blood clots.

Having a seat

Sitting down using crutches is a bit tricky, under no circumstances try to sit down with your arms still in the cuffs, apparently you can break your arms quite easily if you do that. Instead, balance on your good foot, take your two crutches and point the handles towards each other so that they form a H shape, as below:

Now put one hand on both handles (as below), and using that, and your good foot, ease yourself gently into the seat, try not to "flop" into the seat, it might hurt.

Opening and Closing Doors

Opening a door while holding two crutches is really complicated, but it definitely gets easier with practice. The real key to opening a door that swings towards is judging where you can stand that is near enough that you can reach the handle, but far enough away so that when the door opens you don't need to adjust your feet. So when you find that spot, steady yourself with your good foot and one of the crutches; using the other arm to lean in and open the door, swing it towards you, and move back onto two crutches. It just takes a bit of practice.

Food and Drink

Drink lots of water, fruit juices and other fluids, it's very important to be hydrated, so much moreso than usual. Eat healthy food if possible also.

I found that if I made a cup of tea in the kitchen, then the kitchen was where I drank it, simply because I couldn't carry the cup of tea anywhere on crutches. I did try putting the tea in a flask, and putting that in my pocket, and having the tea on the couch, but honestly it was a lot less hassle just to have it where I made it. And it was the same for most food I prepared, it's just easier to have it in the kitchen, I tried putting a tray on the floor, and putting the food in the tray and slowly pushing it to the couch, but it took about 10 minutes!


I'm not a doctor, but two things I found helpful; taking fish oil tablets will reduce how itchy your leg becomes under the cast, and taking vitamins A-Z to help the bone heal.

Cleaning Up

Having a shower is very complicated with a broken leg, if possible it's easier to have a bath, with the cast hanging out of the bath. If you are going to take a shower, you really have to make sure that the cast doesn't get wet, so there are products you can wrap on the cast (see below), although what I did was the following; wrapped the top of the cast in cling film and taped that off with duct tape (aka duck tape), then got a trash bag and pulled it up my leg over the cast, and then taped that as well, particularly around the top of it to make sure there was a good seal, and then tape above and below the knee (to be sure, to be sure). Getting into the shower is tricky, so I would open the shower door, stand perpendicular to the entrance, put one crutch into the shower and leave one outside, the hop my good leg into the shower, and drag my bad leg in. Then I'd put the crutches outside the shower, balancing on one leg, and close the shower door.

Showering itself is very tricky, you are balancing on one leg, you are trying to use your arms to steady yourself, the environment is becoming progressively more slippy, so it's tricky. I found leaning myself up against the wall was the best thing to do, and not expecting to get a full shower for the first few weeks was sensible.

After a few weeks I got a lightweight metal stool for the shower to sit on, that was great, also consider using a plastic chair, if you have any garden furniture handy.

Getting out means opening the door, reaching over to get your crutches, putting one in the shower, one outside, and pushing yourself out, being very careful not be put the crutch in water. To dry myself, I lowered myself slowly onto the bathroom floor (sitting on a towel) and dried myself as much as possible sitting on the floor, then slowly eased myself up, and finished off drying (a non-trivial task to say the least).

Dress for Success

No big advice here, but try to wear loose-fitting clothing, that's easy to get on and off. I found tracksuit bottoms were comfortable and fairly easy to get into.

If you can get a jacket with a lot of pockets (see below) that can be really handy for carrying things while using crutches, otherwise a tote bag worn like a bib works just as well.

I found wearing braces (aka suspenders, aka galluses) made my life a whole lot easier, once I got my foot into my tracksuit bottoms, I was able to use the braces to help me pull them up, it saved a lot of pain!


It's very important to get exercise with a broken leg, I know it's the last thing you feel like, but it's important for your recovery and health to do it. As I mentioned above it's important to walk around on the crutches to build up your confidence, to aid your digestion, and to avoid developing blood clots. Other exercises you do don't have to be anything too dramatic, just wiggling your toes will help make sure your whole leg is getting circulation, and will reduce swelling. Additionally, I used a set of dumbbells to help build up my arm strength, because carrying myself around on crutches is sore on the hands, arms and shoulders, and after a week using the dumbbells it was much easier.


In many ways the entertainment aspect of this journey was the most surprising, I am an avid reader, I am normally reading between three to five books simultaneously at any given time, and I imagined having over a month in bed was going to be a great opportunity to get some serious reading done. This did not turn out to be the case, I found I couldn't concentrate on reading for more than about 20 minutes, some of it was to do with the pain in my leg, some of it was the frustration of not being able to go outside, some of it was to do with my arms being sore from using crutches.

Television on the other hand was definitely easier to manage, and I did look at a lot of comedy TV to maintain a level of happiness. I thought I was going to look at lots of DVDs, but hopping over to change the discs proved to be too tiring, so I stuck with Netflix and looked at a lot of fun shows, some great dramas, and some fascinating documentaries.

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