What can I do for exercise with a broken leg?
January 19, 2011 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I broke my leg in a surfing accident, what can I do to keep active while it heals?

About two weeks ago I broke my right leg. I'm usually a fairly active person, and get most of my exercise via road cycling and surfing -- neither of which I can do with a broken leg. I can do pushups, but that really is pretty limited. I'm wondering what other suggestions people might have for things I can do without risking re-injuring the leg. I'd *love* to be able to do some sort of cardio, as you can see I tend to prefer endurance types of activity.

In terms of logistical restrictions, I don't have a gym membership, and even if I did, I'm not allowed to drive, so I'm basically stuck using whatever's in or around my house right now. I had considered finding a pool where I could stuff a buoy between my knees and swim laps with just my upper body, but transportation is the big problem there.

In terms of physical ability, I am on crutches. I can bend my knee (and have been instructed to do so by my doctor), but can't put any weight on my leg. I also can neither fully straighten the leg, nor fully bend it, my range of motion with it runs from about 20 degrees of bend to about 110 degrees. My injury is a vertical crack running down my tibia from my knee. My expected recovery time is ~3 months.

I'd be willing to order some exercise equipment if it would help, but nothing too expensive as I will only be using it for a couple months (I might be willing to spend $200 or so total, maybe more if something seemed awesome).

Just sitting around the house all day is immensely depressing. I'm hoping if I can get some exercise I'll feel better.
posted by tylerkaraszewski to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have been there (femur in my case). Medically prescribed occupational/physical therapy and ongoing evaluation of your condition by qualified specialists is the ONLY appropriate way to proceed here. You're really going to rely on "suggestions people might have for things I can do without risking re-injuring the leg"? Don't. Do what your physical therapist tells you to do. There will be plenty of opportunities to be pushed and challenged in physical therapy.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 9:49 AM on January 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding the "do what your PT tells you to" advice, but if you're determined to work out your own routine you can do a lot of stuff with a yoga ball without putting much weight on your legs, but transitioning between different positions could put some stress on the leg.

I did some yoga ball work for PT for back trouble a while back, and I was amazed how fast my core felt all noodly.
posted by gurple at 9:51 AM on January 19, 2011

Inexplicably rowing machines tend to depend on moving your seat as much as your arms, which makes me wonder how many of the designers have actually been in a row boat. If you can find one that doesn't depend on it, you could work you arms and shoulders with that provided you don't put weight on the bad leg. With mine I just keep my feet on the front of the machine to keep it from jerking up. The little digital counter gets tripped up but that's no big deal.

I tend to think working it out with your PT person is the best thing to do though, if you have one, just in case.
posted by jwells at 10:07 AM on January 19, 2011

"Just sitting around the house all day is immensely depressing. I'm hoping if I can get some exercise I'll feel better."

This sounds more like a mental problem than a physical one: if you stay inside doing nothing for three months, you will lose your mind. Last year my boyfriend's leg was broken for almost three months, and the thing that seemed to help the most was just going the hell outside and walking around on crutches for hours. It required less planning and effort than going to the gym, and was free. It's a slower pace than cycling, though, which requires patience. He also lifted weights while sitting down, but had to be careful not to unintentionally brace his broken leg against the chair he was sitting in for support.

I used to have a Total Body Works 5000, and it was cheap (about $125 on Amazon) and could be used in any number of ways without putting weight on a leg. Also it folded up pretty small.
posted by sarling at 10:14 AM on January 19, 2011

You can do most boxing moves while sitting - sure it isn't going to blast your heart rate as much as it would otherwise, but its a start when you are sitting there frustrated!
posted by quodlibet at 10:38 AM on January 19, 2011

Inexplicably rowing machines tend to depend on moving your seat as much as your arms, which makes me wonder how many of the designers have actually been in a row boat.

Rowing machines are modeled after a racing shell, not a rowboat. If you want to properly row a shell, you do ~90% of the work with your legs (specifically your quads). This makes sense, because your legs are stronger than your upper body, and have a longer range of motion. Your arms are only good for completing the final 5% of the stroke, and popping the blade out of the water. (Mind you, that 5% actually counts for a lot, and your arms do indeed get tired when rowing properly. The idea is to use your legs, abs, and arms in sequence to get the longest and strongest stroke possible.)

Rowing machines can be modified for paddling or adaptive rowing (where the seat is either fixed in place, or removed entirely to accommodate a wheelchair).

In short, unless you can find a non-standard erg, rowing ain't the answer here. Also, when rowing with Arms/Trunk only, you have to be REALLY careful about hurting your back.
posted by schmod at 10:40 AM on January 19, 2011

Response by poster: If I actually had a rowboat (and a lake in my backyard), that would be awesome. I'd go crutch out there and row around and look at the ducks and stuff for a while. Unfortunately, I lack both the boat and the lake.

I understand your concern iknowizbirfmark, but it seems like certain things are pretty safe (like pushups, or bicep curls). I am specifically looking to avoid using the leg until someone tells me I can, but I don't see why that should keep me from using the rest of my body. I also don't have a physical therapist yet. I have my next appointment with the orthopedist in two or three weeks, and we'll see what he recommends from there. He may connect me with a physical therapist then. I just want to clarify that I'm not looking for exercises for the leg, but just exercises I can do without a leg.

A yoga ball seems dangerous. I've never used one before but it seems like it would be easy to roll off the thing and land on the leg.

Also, sarling is right, it's partly a mental thing, but it's a mental thing largely caused by a lack of physical activity, I think. I can't really even go outside and just crutch myself around very easily because I have a big steep driveway that would be difficult to get down on crutches, and at the bottom I have a road with no real shoulders and not really any notable destination for two miles. My house is kinda out in the country.

It seems like my best options might be either to buy one of these inexpensive exercise benches and only use the top half of it, or just wait and see what my doctor says in a couple weeks.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:57 AM on January 19, 2011

Where are you? If you're near a bay or lake, kayaking could work, depending on the type of cast and type of kayak. Getting in and out is a problem, but if you're near a dock you can use the dock and a boat to pull yourself in and out.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:01 AM on January 19, 2011

it's a mental thing largely caused by a lack of physical activity,

I completely get this. If you're like me, it'll calm down in a week or two but in the meantime maybe you can taper off with other exercises instead of having to go cold turkey.

Crutching around sounds like a lot of exercise to me. There are also hand pedal machines and things like that.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:12 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Push-ups don't strike me as that safe with a vertical tibia fracture (plank position, after all), but that's just me. I think you're making a big mistake to try to roll your own exercise plan at least until you have someone who is qualified tell you what you should or shouldn't do.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 11:31 AM on January 19, 2011

Could you rent a wheelchair (the kind with the "all -terrain" tires) and travel around your yard or nearby park?
posted by WeekendJen at 11:34 AM on January 19, 2011

Well, if you do any martial arts, it's a great time work on forms!

If not, you can get light weights (2-5 lbs) or use books or bottles of water and do bicycle motions or whatever varieties you want to come up with and do a ton of reps. It's not so much for strength as much as for cardio, and will keep you occupied at least. Be sure to not REPEAT the things too much- you don't want to wear yourself out and open yourself for injuries.

After your PT clears you for minimal weight on your leg, crutch around! You'll get some great abs from it.
posted by yeloson at 11:51 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

What about chair exercises? They are usually recommended for elderly people, but also for people who can't use their legs. I don't have a specific recommendation, just though I would throw it out there.
posted by CathyG at 12:45 PM on January 19, 2011

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