Ankle ligament repair can vary in terms of extent and severity, and the recovery from surgery will look different for each patient.
Much of it will depend on your age, health and wellbeing coming into the operation. Playing an active role in your own recovery, following the home treatment plan as set out by your doctor and taking suitable precautions are all crucial elements for a successful pathway back to mobility and health. Although ankle ligament repair surgery is a relatively short operation, it can take up to nine months to make a full recovery.
Rehabilitation exercises are a crucial part of the recovery process, as this will help you regain ankle stability and restore confidence in your movement. Targeted exercises will help strengthen the ankle joint and improve the range of motion. Our rehabilitation team includes experienced physicians, physiotherapists and occupational therapists who will guide you each step of the way.
Please ask about any inpatient or outpatient, individual and group rehabilitation sessions that you can access through your hospital.
Home preparation after ankle ligament surgery
Before you head off to hospital, make sure your home is well set up for your return. After surgery, your mobility will be severely limited as your ankle will be in a protective boot and you are likely to be getting around on crutches. It’s important that you have enough space to move without the risk of compromising your surgery. Getting set up in advance of your procedure is a great way to aid the recovery process so that your ankle has the best chance to heal.
- Arrange for someone to help you get home from hospital after surgery, as you will be unable to drive
- Consider setting up a bedroom downstairs for the first few days while you adjust to the situation as you may find stairs difficult. Choose an area that has easy access to bathroom facilities.
- Clear the floor space for your return so you have ample space to move around. Be sure to remove any trip hazards that could get in the way of your crutches or mobility aids.
- Set up a recovery space where you can relax after your surgery. Keep some pillows on hand to prop yourself up and elevate your ankle. Have a table nearby with access to medication, phone chargers, TV remotes, a book, water and snacks – and anything else you think you might need within reach.
- Stock up on food and easy cook meals in advance of surgery so that you don’t need to worry about food supplies while you have limited movement. Keep all items at an easy reach to prevent overbalancing and possible injury. Have plenty of icepacks ready to use in the freezer as this will help relieve swelling and pain.
- Have some easy-wear and comfortable items to hand that can be pulled on over your operated foot, such as wide-legged stretchy pants or a skirt.
- Organise to have someone on hand to help out with daily tasks like cleaning, shopping and laundry needs. Your doctor will advise when you are cleared to drive.
Caring for your ankle
When you leave hospital, your ankle will be in a protective boot to hold everything securely in place. There should be no weight placed through your operated leg. When you get home, keep your foot elevated as much as possible to help reduce the swelling and relieve pain, and use regular ice packs as directed by your medical team. Keep your wound dry at all times by keeping it covered in the shower, as this will help the healing process.
Using crutches or a mobility aid to get around will keep any weight off your injured ankle, and your doctor will advise when it is safe to transition into a protective boot. This is likely to take a good few weeks depending on the extent of the surgery. You will be provided with specific instructions on how to strengthen your ankle and leg muscles as part of your rehabilitation program, and this will ensure you get the most optimum results from your surgery.
It’s important to start rehabilitation exercises soon after ankle ligament surgery in order to prevent stiffness, restore your range of movement and ensure a quick and safe return to daily activities. Your doctor will discharge you with a personalised rehabilitation program, with specific exercises designed to ensure a gradual return to full health.
In the first couple of weeks while you rest your ankle, the exercises will focus on increasing the range of motion in your ankle joint. As you are able to put more weight on the joint, the exercises will start to include weight-bearing activities designed to improve your strength and mobility. Your rehabilitation program will also include the exercise bike to maintain core strength, as well as hip and knee flexibility exercises. As your ankle heals, targeted exercises will stretch out the muscles in your foot and strengthen the ankle. Always follow the guidelines as set out by your treating therapist and never rush the recovery process.
Average recovery timeline
Most patients leave hospital the same day after ankle ligament surgery with an individualised treatment plan for recovery. This generalised timeline will vary by patient and the extent of the surgery performed.
- After surgery, try to rest as much as possible with your foot elevated above your heart. This will help reduce the swelling and relieve the pain
- Keep all your weight off the affected ankle
- It’s normal to see some slight bruising around the area, and this will fade over time
- Use your crutches to get around short distances safely
- Your rehabilitation exercises will begin
- If your job is office-based, you may be able to return to work on the advice of your doctor
- Your wound will be checked, and your cast will be removed and replaced with a special surgical boot to support and protect your ankle
- Your rehabilitation exercises will start to include some weight-bearing activities
- Talk to your doctor about a return to swimming once your wound has healed
- You may be able to spend some time in a normal shoe that accommodates your swollen foot
- Your foot should start to look more normal, and you may be able to walk short distances.
- Talk to your doctor about returning to more active jobs that involve manual labour.
- You may be able to begin low impact physical exercises at the gym such as the cross trainer or exercise bike, as you start to feel better.
- Massage your wound scar regularly as this will help desensitise the area and reduce scarring.
3 months +
- At this stage you should be able to return to more high-impact activities.
- Talk to your doctor about the most appropriate footwear that will support your ankle after surgery.
- Continue to elevate your ankle where possible as swelling can persist for several months after surgery.
- Rehabilitation exercises continue to improve balance, mobility and function.
- A full recovery can take up to one year.
What to avoid after ankle ligament surgery
Recovery from ankle ligament surgery can take some time, and it does require some patience to get the full benefit of the procedure. Recovery guidelines will vary by the extent of the surgery, but there are certain precautionary measures that will help your recovery:
- Keep your weight off your operated foot as much as possible after surgery. Rest, ice and elevation will help reduce any swelling and relieve pain.
- Don’t let your wound get wet – keep it dry at all times to help with the healing.
- Try not to rush your recovery by speeding through the rehabilitation exercises, as this will compromise your surgery and slow your recovery.
Frequently Asked Questions
When can I bear weight after surgery?
It is not advised to put any weight on your operated ankle for the first two weeks after surgery. You will be given crutches or a mobility aid, and you will be shown how to get around safely. Your ankle ligaments need time to heal and repair before they are able to bear any weight. Talk to your treating doctor about when it is safe to do so.
When can I drive after surgery?
A return to driving will depend on which foot was operated on. If the surgery was performed on your left leg, you may be able to return to driving an automatic car slightly sooner. The most important factor is whether you are able to make an emergency stop if needed. Once your doctor has given approval you can start out by driving small distances before progressing to more longer journeys.
Will I be able to run again?
Your doctor is best placed to advise when you can return to high impact activities. In general, patients are able to gradually return to straight line running some 16 weeks after surgery. This will also depend on the extent of your procedure, and how you are responding to the recovery and rehabilitation program. It takes longer to return to sports that require sudden changes of direction.
Can I wear high heels after ankle ligament surgery?
If you are recovering from ankle ligament surgery your doctor may advise that you avoid excessively high heels as this does put your ankle joint at risk of further injury. A high heel will push your body weight forwards, leaving you off balance and prone to accidents. Talk to your doctor about the heel height that is most appropriate for your condition and that will protect your surgery at the same time.
This article contains information of a general nature, which may not be relevant to you. You should not rely on this article as medical advice. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risk. We encourage you to speak with your doctor about your condition.