Transitioning out of a walking boot will depend on the type of injury or surgery you’ve experienced as well as a few other items. When my patients ask me the question ‘how long do I have to wear a boot for my ankle’ I reflect on a few key items;
- Was the ankle surgically repaired?
- Has the foot or ankle healed completely? (was an xRay recently taken)
- What are the physician’s expectations (health factors i.e. diabetes)
The purpose of wearing an ankle boot is to support the foot and ankle as the internal structures heal (bones, ligaments, and tendons). The healing time for each of these types of tissues can vary significantly. Typically the healing times for these tissues are as follows:
Bones: 6 to 8 week healing time
Ligaments: 6 to 12+ weeks
Tendons: 4 to 8 weeks+ (depending on severity)
Initial 4 Weeks of Wearing Boot
The first few weeks of wearing a walking boot are very important as this is when the bones are tissues are most vulnerable and actively healing. Your physician may instruct you to wear a boot in order to position the ankle in the best possible arrangement for the structures to heal properly.
If your ankle or foot required surgery, you may be instructed to use the boot for 6 to 8 weeks. This is especially true if your ankle is supported by plates and screws to promote healing of a fractured bone. Walking without support may place too much pressure on the injured area and could cause more damage.
Has the foot or ankle healed completely?
Your physician may order new xRays on your follow up visit. This will provide insight on the healing process of your foot or ankle. If the bones appear to have healed in the proper placement, then you may be allowed to walk without the boot. Gradual return to walking is important as the muscles of your foot and ankle will need to build up after 6 weeks of immobilization.
Other Health Factors
For patients who have diabetes, the healing process is slowed. It’s possible to expect 25 to 50% longer healing time with a patient who has diabetes. This may extend the time spent in the ankle boot.
If you’ve experienced an ankle or foot fracture (break of the bone), you may be instructed to be non-weight bearing or partial weight bearing.
This can be very challenging instructions for active people to follow, but it’s important to create an environment that allows for the ankle or foot to heal properly. Bearing too much weight to the point of pain may prolong the healing process and result in the need to continue wearing the boot for even longer.
When can I return to driving after ankle surgery?
It’s tempting to return to driving after an ankle injury, but this can be very dangerous if you’re not yet ready. The ankle first needs to have enough mobility to move quickly from each pedal. You must also have enough strength to lift or press your ankle against the brakes without hesitation and with full pressure.
Wearing a bulky boot while driving (especially when it’s on your right foot), is very dangerous not only to you, but to other drivers who may be injured if you cannot stop quickly enough.
Driving restrictions usually last for 4 to 6 weeks and lift once you no longer require the boot.
Best Walking Boot for Foot and Ankle Injury
Walking boots will feel awkward, but some are worse than others. When you’re ready to bear weight, here are a couple of the best walking boots for foot and ankle injuries:
Recovering from an ankle or foot injury can be a long and drawn out process. Be sure to follow the instructions of your physician and physical therapist and avoid rushing the process as you may cause further damage to the area.