Journey to Recovery from a Broken Leg to Walking Again: A Parent’s Perspective
As a parent, it’s tough to watch your child suffer from an injury. It’s even tougher when the injury is severe, like a broken leg. My oldest son, Elohw, broke his leg (tibia) two days after his sixth birthday. His broken leg was in a full cast from mid-thigh to toe for six weeks. The orthopaedic surgeon and our family doctor advised us not to let him put any weight on his leg while in the cast so his leg would heal better.
Even though we got him a pair of crutches, I never forced him to use them while his leg was in the cast because I feared he would over-compensate and develop bad walking habits. At the same time, we needed to follow the specialist’s recommendations to make sure Elohw’s leg healed as well as possible. We were all excited when it was time for him to get his cast off, but we didn’t realize that this would be just the beginning of a long journey to recovery.
Recovery from a Broken Tibia
Once the cast was off, the orthopaedic surgeon warned us that his broken leg might grow crooked and that we needed to be careful for a year to prevent complications. He also told us that the fracture was not fully healed and said, “If he were an adult, we would have to put him back in a cast. But because he is a kid, he will heal fast enough.” We were a bit puzzled by this and asked whether we should take Elohw to physiotherapy. He advised us not to waste our money. We left the doctor’s office with our son and his “brand new leg” – and decided to do what seemed right to us based on our experience with our own bodies.
I am so grateful for all my training and my experience with pain because I was able to support my son in his recovery. It has also made me wonder how many parents find themselves at a loss in a similar situation. I broke my femur when I was 19, and I know from experience that we compensate to avoid pain and create more pain in other places in our body, usually in the spine and hips. I kept reminding my son about his posture – repeatedly!
Exercises to Regain Mobility after a Fracture
I knew that the first thing we had to focus on was regaining the mobility in his joint even before gaining strength. I showed him two simple exercises: pointing and flexing his foot and flexing and extending his knee. I soon realized that our son had a very low pain threshold and had gotten used to being carried or scooting around on his butt! I had to deal with a lot of resistance and screaming. I tried encouraging him to use the crutches but to no avail. I also discovered that I could stretch his leg while he slept, to help speed the recovery.
At a second visit with our family doctor, she explained that he needed to start standing and, using crutches, put weight on the leg in order for the bones to grow. She told him that astronauts in space lose bone density because, without gravity, they don’t bear any weight.
We also took our son to the physiotherapist to see if she knew a way to speed up the process. Most kids, she told us, are eager to get up and moving, and usually have to be encouraged to slow down to not get hurt. Elohw wasn’t typical. He was anxious about the pain and needed a lot of encouragement. She also explained that his ankle had been compressed by the cast and might be swollen for a few weeks.
During our session, the physical therapist showed us a more natural way to use crutches for walking, where we step the opposite foot and crutches at the same time instead of hopping without putting weight on the foot. She also confirmed that my current approach was helpful and advised Elohw to work through the pain and move his leg as much as possible. She explained that experiencing some pain is normal, but if you feel pain for 20-30 minutes after simple exercises, it’s a sign that you’re pushing yourself too hard.
Dealing with mindset can be tricky. Despite my son’s initial negativity, I encouraged him to breathe and told him, “Yes, you can!” This approach paid off, as he eventually started walking without the help of crutches. I also put him on his bike as soon as possible to help him regain his strength and mobility.
If you’re a parent going through a similar situation, I hope my experience helps you. I welcome any advice or thoughts you may have to help us on our journey to healing.