What to Expect During Physical Therapy After Ankle Surgery

man in physical therapy after having ankle surgery

Overuse or trauma to one or both ankles can mean a significant loss of function and mobility, affecting your ability to perform or enjoy normal daily activities. Ankle surgery to repair the damage may include arthroscopy, fracture repair, ankle ligament reconstruction, ankle replacement, ankle fusion, or Achilles tendon rupture.

Most ankle surgeries, including many of those listed above, require immobilization afterward, which impairs your range of motion, strength, and function. As a result, the majority of surgeons recommend patients begin a physical therapy program as soon as possible. Your physical therapist will begin with non-weight-bearing exercises to decrease the negative effects of immobilization.

Once your doctor clears you to exert weight on the recovering ankle, your physical therapist will guide you in more challenging exercises as you work to rebuild your functional mobility.

At MOTION PT Group, we work extensively with people recovering from orthopedic injuries to the musculoskeletal system. We understand the frustration of being “sidelined” from the activities you love, which is why our mission is to get you back to what moves you as quickly as possible.

Common Ankle Injuries

By understanding the most common types of ankle injuries a person can face as well as what causes them, we believe that patients cannot only work towards avoiding them but also know when treatment needs to be sought out. The most common ankle injuries a person can sustain include:

  • Ligament sprains.
  • Ligament tears.
  • Fractures.
  • Breaks.
  • Dislocations.
  • Bursitis.

Some of the reasons that are likely to lead to the development of ankle injuries include:

  • Slips, trips, and falls.
  • Landing awkwardly on the ankle after jumping.
  • Walking, running, or working out on uneven surfaces.
  • Twisting or rotating the ankle past its normal range of motion.
  • Rolling the ankle joint.

Symptoms That Require Professional Treatment

It’s not uncommon for people to tweak their ankles from time to time. Just because you experience a fleeting feeling of pain doesn’t mean a serious issue has occurred. However, knowing the signs that point to an actual issue will significantly benefit the recovery process. The sooner you receive ankle surgery or undergo a regimen of physical therapy, the faster you can return your ankle to full strength. If you find yourself dealing with any of the below examples, professional help should be sought:

  • Hearing or feeling a popping sensation at the time of injury.
  • Instability.
  • Weakness.
  • Bruising or discoloration.
  • Inability to bear weight on the affected ankle.
  • Copious amounts of pain.

What Takes Place During Surgery?

What occurs during ankle surgery will depend on the damage around the joint. After the extent of your ankle injury has been determined, any of the below surgical options might be utilized to restore ankle functionality:

  • Repairing the damaged tendon.
  • Realigning the structure of the joint.
  • Removing any seriously damaged tissue.
  • Replacing the joint with artificial parts.
  • Fusing the ankle joint.

Why Physical Therapy After Surgery Is Needed?

It’s easy for patients to assume that undergoing ankle surgery is the last step in the recovery process. However, doing so is a mistake that can permanently affect the health of your ankle. Following your surgery, physical therapy will be needed to complete the healing process. That is because there are complications that can arrive post-surgery, which are more likely to be eliminated through this treatment. Examples of the types of issues physical therapy can help with include:

  • Preventing blood clots.
  • Eliminating scar tissue.
  • Reducing post-surgery swelling and inflammation.
  • Increasing strength in the ankle.
  • Restoring range of motion.

What Should you Expect on Your First Visit?

During your first visit, we will conduct a thorough examination and assessment to determine your starting point. Several MOTION therapists are specially trained in the McKenzie Method® of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy®, which is an internationally acclaimed system of assessment used worldwide to devise the best treatment strategy for musculoskeletal disorders in the spine and extremities.

Those results, combined with information your doctor has provided regarding weight-bearing precautions or other restrictions, will enable us to design a treatment plan that meets your individual needs.

During your visit, your therapist may ask you to move around in order to assess certain functions, so dress comfortably. Throughout this and every visit, we encourage you to ask questions and provide feedback.

The initial assessment measures some or all of the following aspects:

  • Measurements of affected body parts
  • Swelling
  • Pain level
  • Range of motion
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Gait
  • Overall function and mobility

Our overall goal is to reduce pain and increase your endurance, range of motion, strength, flexibility, and gait. To improve walking and functional ability, we will focus on strengthening the ankles, hips, knees, and core muscles (belly, mid and lower back). We will also work with you to improve balance and body posture.

Treatment Modalities and Tools for Ankle Rehabilitation

Physical therapy usually starts two to four weeks after ankle surgery, with sessions two to three times per week, and often continues for six to eight weeks. However, everyone heals at a different rate. Your physical therapy timeline depends on the type of ankle surgery you’ve had, your age, any underlying health conditions, and other factors.

Tools and treatment modalities that may be used by MOTION therapists include:

  • Passive exercises (also called joint mobilization) to stretch, strengthen, and improve range of motion. Your therapist moves the joint for you.
  • Manual therapy to relieve muscle stiffness.
  • Soft tissue mobilization by your therapist to break down scar tissue.
  • Dry needling, in which the physical therapist inserts fine needles deep into muscle or trigger points to treat pain and movement impairments.
  • Electrical stimulation to decrease pain and increase functional mobility.
  • Instrumented gait analysis to assess gait, pressure points, balance, followed by gait training.
  • Kinesiology taping (also known as “k-taping”) to improve circulation and decrease swelling and pain.
  • Stationary bicycle, swimming, or walking to improve cardiovascular function.
  • Exercises using specialized weights.
  • Yoga and balance work.

Why MOTION?

Since 2015, MOTION has provided transformative physical and occupational therapy services to clients of all ages. At MOTION, our mission is to improve the lives of every client, as we help them get back to what moves them. Every step of the way, we’re guided by our values of compassion, empowerment, integrity, and teamwork.

At MOTION, we believe our relationship with our clients is a partnership. We will teach you how to take what you learn at your physical therapy sessions home with you, so you can continue to strengthen your body, improve your quality of life, and get back to doing what you love quickly and safely. If you are diligent in practicing home therapy as recommended by your physical therapist, you should progress rapidly and increase your chances for long-term recovery.

Contact us today to schedule an in-clinic or telehealth appointment.