Recovering From Bad Breaks Takes Time

Kevin Ware up and moving on crutches after surgery to repair a broken leg. / Twitter/Kenny Klein
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - If you'd never seen anything like Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware's broken leg during the NCAA tournament, you're not alone.

Steve Englander, Stormont-Vail HealthCare's Rehab Services Manager, says he doesn't recall ever seeing such an injury in an athlete. He says most traumatic breaks happen from car accidents or falls.

No matter how they happen, Englander says a number of factors contribute to how long recovery might take. Those include infection, the extent of injury to the soft tissue and the bone itself. Englander says a break in several pieces will take longer to heal than a clean break. Also, although bone is a living tissue that usually heals readily, there can be complications such as malunion, where the bone doesn't grow together correctly, or non-union where it doesn't grow at all.

Early treatment includes immobilizing the break area to allow healing. That doesn't always mean the traditional external case. Ware's leg and other breaks that require surgery have the fixation internally, so all that's required is a simple brace worn as protection.

Englander says, from there, patients will gradually add mobility and weight-bearing activity. He says physical therapy will focus on surrounding muscle groups that support the actual area of the break. With a broken leg, for example, mobility of the knee and strengthening the quads, calves, hips and abdominals will be important.

Englander says it can take nine to 12 months to recover from a traumatic bone break. He says recovery is part mental, too. While physical therapists aren't psychologists, he says, they do try to address the fear and anxiety people may have about returning to activities by giving the patient confidence their body is working properly.

Englander says, while not much can be done to prevent a broken bone like ware suffered, proper conditioning can help you avoid the ligament injuries that are more commonly seen.