It has been over two years since I broke my ankle, and 18 months since surgery.
I broke it doing incorrect parkour, without proper training or supervision. Parkour is wonderful; training too aggressively is not.
So how is this ankle doing? And can I walk across two continents on it?
Quite a Doctor
I knew from the beginning I’d go on the Great Adventure whether I broke my ankle or not. But other people have mixed reactions. Most don’t realize I injured my ankle at all: after all, I walk normally. When I remind someone I am still fighting an ankle injury they look horrified and tell me not to go.
My surgeon has a different opinion.
“You’re going to have arthritis for life,” he told me. “It will get worse. Eventually, if the pain is too great, we can fuse the joint. I recommend you beat the hell out of it until then.”
He knew about Plan Walk-to-South-America when he gave this advice. His reasoning is that the joint will get worn out anyway, so enjoy physical activities while I can. Avoiding my favorite things for decades isn’t worth it. I like that reasoning and I agree with it.
Plus walking can actually improve my ankle. It’s a low-impact way to keep it in constant use, strengthen it, and get that joint flexing again.
So I have the full approval of the orthopedic surgeon who knows my ankle best. But that doesn’t make it easy.
Learning to Walk
After my surgery there were three main long-term factors I had to deal with. They are:
- Recovery from the injury itself and the surgery
- Atrophied, stiffened joint from over a year in a “boot”
- Immense scar tissue limiting flexibility in the joint
Additionally there is the arthritis, but there isn’t much I can do about that.
The immediate effects of the surgery included swelling, soreness, and months of staying off my feet. 18 months later the swelling still isn’t completely gone—I found out recently it might be swollen forever.
Atrophied, stiffened muscles are nothing to play with. My Achilles tendon literally got shorter during a year of immobility. It became impossible to stretch my injured foot as far as the good one. All the other muscles were weaker, too.
Are weak foot muscles a big deal? Well, aside from holding you up, the muscles around the ankle play a crucial role in balance. Post-surgery I could balance on my good foot for 60 seconds easily. With my recovering foot, it capped at 1.5 seconds.
I started daily stretching, as well as ankle lifts to strengthen the muscles. I did a balance routine and when that got easy, I started doing it on a bosu. Because of muscle stiffness, it was hard to absorb impact when landing from even a small jump, so I worked my way up to dismounting from the bosu aerially.
I can now balance on one leg on a bosu, then spring up in the air and land on the ground.
Scar tissue remains pretty serious. Recently I began to have a new kind of pain near my heel. As I break up scar tissue and regain flexibility, it turns out I’m starting to use muscles I still wasn’t using before. Which means… they’re still atrophied. Those muscles weren’t needed for my limited range of motion, so they never got worked out at the gym. Till now.
For My Next Trick
This is an ongoing process, and one of the most difficult things in my life. A month ago, walking for a few hours left me with an inflamed, aching ankle and I could barely limp the next morning. Now I can hike 5+ hours up a mountain and still get up tomorrow.
I’ve learned to manage the arthritis and swelling through stretching, regular activity, and continual conditioning to handle longer and longer walks.
The Great Adventure will be the ultimate test of this conditioning. I have 6 months left till I start, and I need to train daily. The uneven streets of Chiang Mai have proven a good setting for that.