Have you broken your fibula? Here’s a comprehensive article about the recovery time after this type of fracture.
As usual, I address the most common questions from patients. I do so based on my experience as a physical therapist, along with regular updates of my knowledge by consulting scientific publications related to the subject.
Enjoy reading, and feel free to reach out in the comments if you need assistance 🙂!
Last update: September 2023
Disclaimer: Amazon affiliate links. Complete disclosure in legal notices.
Written by Nelly Darbois, physical therapist and scientific writer
What does a fibula fracture look like?
A fibula fracture occurs when the bone called the fibula, one of the two leg bones located next to the tibia, is broken.
Very often, when the fibula is fractured, the tibia is also fractured: in 78% of cases, when there is a fibula fracture, there is also a tibia fracture (Javdan 2017).
Symptoms of a fibula fracture
Here are the common symptoms of a fibula fracture:
- Pain and swelling: The affected area can be tender to the touch or even without any contact.
- Deformation or displacement of the bone: The bone might shift from its normal position, which could be visible to the naked eye.
- Inability to bear weight: It can be difficult or even impossible to put weight on the affected leg. Walking or moving the leg can be very painful.
- Cracking sound or noise during the injury.
- Bruising: Bruises might develop around the fracture area due to blood accumulation caused by the injury.
Different Types of Fibula Fractures
Just like any bone, the fibula can break:
- In one or multiple places.
- In various ways.
Here are the most common types of fibula fractures. You can determine the specific type of fracture you have through X-rays. This information is available in your X-ray report.
- Hairline Fibula Fracture: The bone is slightly altered. Some people wonder how long it takes to recover from a hairline fibula fracture – generally, a bit less time than a complete fracture.
- Non-Displaced Fibula Fracture: A fracture line separates two bone fragments (or more), but the fragments remain very close to each other.
- Displaced Fibula Fracture: There is a significant gap between different bone fragments. These fractures might take a bit longer to heal and recover.
- Fracture of the Head of the Fibula: The fracture affects the upper part of the fibula, near the knee – the proximal part of the leg segment in medical terms.
- Fracture of the Fibula Shaft: This type affects the midsection of the leg, halfway between the knee and the ankle.
- Fracture of the External Ankle Malleolus (Distal Fibula): The fracture affects the lower part of the fibula, at the ankle joint – the distal part in medical terms. The lower end of the fibula is actually the external ankle malleolus (the sturdy, protruding bone you feel on the outside of your ankle). Fractures of the external ankle malleolus are the most common type of ankle fracture (Canton 2021).
- Stress Fracture of the Fibula.
- Spiral Fibula Fracture: The fracture line spirals through the bone. These fractures can be displaced or non-displaced, depending on the degree of separation between bone fragments.
- Avulsion Fracture of the Head of the Fibula: This occurs when the upper part of the bone, known as the head of the fibula, separates from the main bone due to the force exerted by the ligaments and tendons attached to it. Instead of the bone fracturing directly, a bone fragment detaches from the head of the fibula due to traction from the attaching structures.
What is the treatment for a fibula fracture?
There are two main types of treatment for a fibula fracture, depending on various factors related to the type of fracture, your health condition, and the practices of the medical and surgical teams you encounter:
- Conservative or Orthopedic Treatment: No surgery. Sometimes an operation is not required.
- Surgical Treatment: Surgery is performed to stabilize the fracture, realign bone fragments, and promote healing.
Regardless of the treatment approach, you might or might not have:
- Immobilization with a cast, splint, walking boot, or simple precautionary instructions.
- The ability to put weight on the foot of the fractured leg.
Non-Casted Fibula Fracture
In some cases, a fibula fracture can be treated without the need for a cast. This might be the case when:
- The fracture is stable and non-displaced.
- Other leg structures, such as the tibia, remain intact.
A non-cast treatment for a fibula fracture might still involve using a splint, walking boot (see on Amazon), or crutches to support the injured leg during the healing process.
Surgery for a Fibula Fracture?
Surgical intervention by an orthopedic surgeon may be necessary to treat a fibula fracture. This can be recommended when the fracture is:
- Or associated with damage to surrounding soft tissues: nerves, blood vessels, ligaments, muscles, etc.
The goal is to realign the bone fragments and secure them in place using screws, metal plates, or other internal fixation devices.
This can be accomplished through minimally invasive techniques (arthroscopy; see knee arthroscopy) or a larger incision, depending on the nature of the fracture.
Walking Boot for Fibula Fracture
A walking boot (see on Amazon) is used to support and protect an injured leg, including in cases of fibula fracture.
It’s often utilized when the fracture is stable and doesn’t require rigid immobilization such as a cast.
Why is it prescribed sometimes instead of leaving the leg “unprotected”?
- To prevent further injury from impacts or twisting of the ankle.
- To facilitate walking.
Can you walk on a fractured fibula?
On the same day as the fracture occurs, you can resume walking.
You just need to find the appropriate assistive device: crutches, walking canes, a walker, and so on.
You will know whether you’re allowed weight-bearing or not.
Even if you’re not permitted full weight-bearing, partial weight-bearing is almost always feasible. This involves placing your foot on the ground, but only bearing the weight of the leg without fully supporting it.
At times, full weight-bearing is possible: you can put as much weight as you want on the leg with the fracture while walking. Pain often limits the amount of weight you put on it, which is why crutches are helpful.
In the vast majority of cases, you can start walking immediately with a fibula fracture. However, you often need to adjust your walking technique and follow whether you’ve been advised to avoid putting weight on the fractured leg or not.
Can you walk on a broken fibula after 4 weeks?
At around the 4-week mark, it’s common to schedule a follow-up X-ray to assess the healing progress.
Your healthcare provider assesses the X-ray results and evaluates your specific situation. They will determine if you can start putting weight on the affected leg and to what extent.
Exercises for a fractured fibula
Following a fibula fracture, I recommend to my patients to prioritize staying active in their daily routines rather than focusing solely on specific exercises. Here are some examples of activities and exercises that can be beneficial during the rehabilitation process:
- Regular walking: Walking is one of the best ways to restore leg strength and mobility after a fibula fracture. Start with short distances and gradually increase as you feel more comfortable. Use crutches or a cane if necessary (due to pain or medical/surgical instructions) to offload weight from the injured leg, then progress to walking without assistance.
- Regular position changes: Sit, lie down, semi-recline, bend and straighten your leg. Alternate between static periods of sitting or standing and short walking sessions throughout the day.
- Progressive muscle strengthening and range of motion exercises
Your physical therapists can provide personalized exercises such as:
- Ankle or knee flexion and extension, especially if you have difficulty bending your knee.
- Sit-to-stand exercises from a chair.
- Standing or lying gluteal (buttock) exercises, etc.
But once again, what matters is the overall level of physical activity rather than just performing exercises for 10 minutes a day!
How long to walk normally after broken fibula?
Over the course of weeks, you will gradually start walking more normally. Once the bones are fully healed, you can truly begin to reintegrate a normal walking pattern, using as much support as pain and strength allow.Individuals with a fibula fracture typically take 1 to 6 months to walk normally again, as before.
I have written a more comprehensive article on how to walk after a fracture of the lower end of the fibula (outer ankle malleolus).
What is the total recovery time when you’ve broken your fibula?
When you have a fracture, you’re eager to know how long each stage of recovery will take.
This depends on various factors such as the type of fracture, your current and prior health condition, etc.
In general, it takes a few months to fully regain your pre-fracture lifestyle at 100% after a fibula fracture.
Here are some indicative recovery timelines.
|Stage||Usual Timeframe from the Day of Fibula Fracture|
|Significantly reduced pain||2-3 weeks|
|Your bones are well consolidated||6-8 weeks|
|Swelling in your leg/foot subsides||Several weeks to months|
|Resuming walking with crutches||Immediate|
|Resuming walking without crutches||6 weeks – 3 months|
|Ability to drive a car||6 weeks – 12 weeks|
|Returning to work||2-4 months|
|Getting back to sports||3-10 months|
|Complete functional and muscular recovery||6 months – 1 year|
Non displaced fibula fracture: healing time
Non-displaced fibula fractures generally have a shorter healing time compared to displaced fractures, all other factors being equal.
The luckiest individuals can regain their pre-injury independence within a few weeks.
Broken fibula with surgery plate and screws: recovery time
Recovery time for a broken fibula treated with surgery involving a plate and screws can vary depending on several factors. Generally, it may take several months to achieve full recovery and return to your pre-injury level of activity.
You might be able to resume low-impact activities like swimming or stationary cycling around 3-4 months post-surgery. More demanding activities like running or impact sports could take longer, potentially 4-6 months or more.
How to speed up healing of broken fibula?
I understand your desire to find ways to speed up the healing of a broken fibula 🙂. However, there is no medical treatment or remedy that can significantly accelerate the natural healing process.
Bone healing occurs in a specific sequence and can’t be rushed. That said, there are some essential principles to follow to support and optimize the healing process:
- Protect: Give your broken fibula time to heal by avoiding activities that could put stress on the injured area, but stay active!
- Avoid Smoking and Excessive Alcohol: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can interfere with the healing process. If you smoke, consider quitting, and limit alcohol intake.
- Stay Positive: A positive attitude can make a difference in your overall well-being during the recovery process! Surround yourself with supportive friends and family.
- Follow-Up Appointments: Attend all scheduled follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider to monitor your progress and make any necessary adjustments to your treatment plan.
Fibula Fracture and Swollen Foot: Is It Normal?
Even if the injury is in your leg, the foot often swells after a fibula fracture. This swelling, also known as edema, can persist for several weeks.
Why does this swelling occur?
- Due to reduced movement, blood circulation in your lower limb becomes less active. As a result, blood tends to accumulate, especially in the lower part.
- Inflammation occurs around the fractured area and its surroundings. This is a natural response, allowing your body to deliver essential substances to the bone and skin tissues through fluids, aiding the damaged structures in natural and faster healing. However, the excess fluid causes swelling. Isolated swelling without other accompanying signs (such as fever or significant redness) is not a cause for alarm or complication.
Here are the five recommendations I give to my patients who are bothered by this swelling:
- Walk as often as your pain allows. Use crutches or a walker. Find the most suitable way of walking for you. When possible, walk outside gradually increasing the distance.
- Limit prolonged periods of static standing or sitting with your foot on the ground, as well as standing in one place for extended periods. Blood circulation is less active in these situations compared to walking or being in a reclined position.
- Consider wearing compression socks or stockings (available on Amazon for example) if you have no contraindications and find them acceptable and practical in your case. These can be purchased at pharmacies or online. They’re covered by health insurance and supplemental plans if prescribed by your physical therapist or doctor.
- Elevate your foot several times a day. Make yourself comfortable on a couch or bed. If you don’t have an adjustable bed or chair, use stacked cushions to position your foot higher than your heart. Ensure the cushions are arranged to prevent your foot from sliding.
- Remember that the swelling will gradually decrease over the weeks, regardless of your actions.
Driving After a Fibula Fracture: When?
Opinions on resuming driving after a fibula fracture can vary greatly.
In US, the traffic regulations do not provide specific guidance on driving with fracture. It’s the responsibility of the driver to ensure that their condition is compatible with safe and responsive driving.
If there’s a strict contraindication regarding weight-bearing, pedal use is not recommended. Even though you’ll put less pressure on the pedals than while walking.
In an academic publication discussing resuming driving after both operated and non-operated ankle fractures, the following timelines are suggested:
- wait for 6 to 8 weeks, or 1 week after cast or splint removal, for the right ankle.
- No specific timeframe is given for the left ankle.
If you feel the need to learn more about the recovery period after a fibula fracture, I wrote this guide in eBook format:
Here’s what I wanted to tell you about this! I wish you a very good recovery! Do you have any comments or questions? Your comments are welcome 🙂 !
You may also like:
- Walking after fracture of tibia and fibula
- How to speed up the healing process of a fibula fracture?
Javdan M, Tahririan MA, Nouri M. The Role of Fibular Fixation in the Treatment of Combined Distal Tibia and Fibula Fracture: A Randomized, Control Trial. Adv Biomed Res. 2017 Apr 25;6:48. doi: 10.4103/2277-9175.205190. PMID: 28620592; PMCID: PMC5433694.
Canton G, Sborgia A, Maritan G, Fattori R, Roman F, Tomic M, Morandi MM, Murena L. Fibula fractures management. World J Orthop. 2021 May 18;12(5):254-269. doi: 10.5312/wjo.v12.i5.254. PMID: 34055584; PMCID: PMC8152440.
Images : Spadafore S, Khodaee M. Avulsion fracture of the proximal fibula (arcuate sign) in a young woman. BMJ Case Rep. 2020 Sep 16;13(9):e237368. doi: 10.1136/bcr-2020-237368. PMID: 32938655; PMCID: PMC7497136. & Inokuchi R, Jujo Y, Iwashita K, Takao M. Maisonneuve fracture: a type of ankle fracture. BMJ Case Rep. 2019 Nov 4;12(11):e231961. doi: 10.1136/bcr-2019-231961. PMID: 31690688; PMCID: PMC6855876.
Written by Nelly Darbois
I love writing articles based on my experience as a physiotherapist (since 2012), scientific writer, and extensive researcher in international scientific literature.
I live in the French Alps 🌞❄️, where I work as a scientific editor for my own website, which is where you are right now.