When I was younger, I sustained multiple fractures of one ankle. This article shares my experience wearing a bent-knee cast.
Temporary walking accessories: bent-knee cast and crutches
When your leg is in a cast, you need a sense of humor and lots of patience!
Wearing a bent-knee leg cast may temporarily change your lifestyle, but it needn’t immobilize you. You can adjust to the limitations it imposes and may even acquire a new level of patience from the experience. I know, because in the late 1970s a multiple ankle fracture forced me to slow down for three months.
These days, casts are lighter—and an injury like a shattered ankle may no longer require rigid casting. A cast may not have to be worn for such a long period of time, and it may be removable when resting.
I wish I could blame my broken ankle on a daredevil feat, such as skiing, mountain climbing or some other athletic action that was totally foreign to me. Answering the question, “What happened to you?” with the wimpy, “I slipped while running to get out of the rain and fell on my ankle,” just didn’t do much for my (admittedly, wimpy) image.
After my tumble, I awoke from surgery to find my right foot and leg encased in a rigid bent-knee cast that felt like hardened concrete. The surgeon explained I was not allowed to place my foot on a walking surface for three months, so all the work he’d done pinning together the bones of my ankle would not go to waste. I'd have to get around on crutches while my bones healed.
The day before I was to leave the hospital, a nurse trundled me off to the physical therapy lab in a wheelchair. There I was given a lesson in the appropriate hop-step technique required for movement with crutches when one leg cannot be used.
Believe me—it is not as simple as it looks! For one thing, putting your weight on crutches imposes a physical insult on your armpits—that is, if you use the crutches the wrong way. I needed lessons for the safe way to use them in order to avoid damaging a nerve in the underarm area. I was instructed to move the hand rests further down each crutch and to place the top of the crutch at an angle several inches below the underarm before moving.
Now, this was a totally unnatural state of affairs. If humans had been meant to move about in such a fashion, we would have been born with thick calluses on our upper sides. Use of the crutches produced those calluses, of course, but first I had to endure blisters.
The most difficult aspect, for me, of mastering the use of crutches was learning to hop up and down the lab’s practice steps—four steps up to a wide platform, four steps down the opposite side. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Not if you haven’t tried it with one unusable leg! I had a bit of trouble with those steps and probably took longer learning the hop-step than the average person, but finally “graduated” from crutch class.
You must learn to use crutches properly before being released to go home.
Back home again....
“D”-day arrived. I was discharged from the hospital, and some of my family arrived to drive me home. They invited me to stay with them while I was on the mend, but an independent woman such as I would (naturally) insist on going straight home to her own apartment.
Need I tell you that my apartment was located upstairs? Up twelve v-e-r-y s-t-e-e-p steps? Concrete steps with large open spaces between each one? When I first encountered those steps with my crutches placed as I’d been taught, that staircase seemed about a mile high.
The offer was renewed for me to stay three months at a single-floor dwelling, but must I remind you that I was Independent Woman? I was also quite stubborn. Swallowing my pride, I sat on the second step from the walkway and “bounced” my way backward and upward on my own bottom, finally reaching the top. It wasn’t a dignified homecoming. (I felt sure my neighbors were watching this performance behind slightly-opened drapes.) Still, it got me to my front door and into my own abode.
I vowed silently that I would do the hop-step properly from then on when traversing the staircase, and I did, but it was always scary hopping up those steps. Hopping down them seemed easier, probably because those open spaces weren't right in front of my eyes.
Once inside my apartment, I got settled in and promised to phone my family if I needed anything. After they left, I looked around and realized I’d have to adjust the way I did almost everything. Moving was slow, so everything I did happened more slowly than was normal for me. Also, I had to exercise caution not to lean and become over-balanced, because the last thing I wanted to do was fall again.
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I had to tape a large garbage bag snugly over my cast to keep it dry before I could take a bath. That also meant sliding over the side of the tub and leaving my "wrapped" leg propped and dangling over the edge. The bathwater couldn't be run until I was in place, and it was necessary to let the water drain before I made the reverse moves to get out. I had to add fifteen minutes to my personal hygiene schedule so I could lie down and rest after these bathtub maneuvers.
Some tasks, such as grocery shopping and laundry (no washer and dryer in my apartment then) were beyond me. I had to accept the help of my family for these things during the three months I wore the cast.
In fact, this is why you need patience in such a situation, especially if you’re as dogged about doing everything for yourself as I was back then. I had to learn to accept help gratefully and graciously without protest. This was difficult for me at first, but I came to understand that people who offered to help genuinely wanted to make life easier for me during this trying time. While the phrase, “it’s more blessed to give than to receive” may be true most of the time, the reverse is in order when you really need help. Let other folks enjoy that blessing by accepting the help they freely give.
The car I owned at the time had a standard transmission, and I couldn’t use the clutch while in the cast, so my boss kindly offered to let me ride to and from work with him each day. Since he didn’t live too far away from my apartment, I didn’t consider this a major imposition. He was also gallant enough to walk up and down the staircase each time--just in case I stumbled.
At the office, I let coworkers bring me supplies, make photocopies for me and bring a lunch tray to my desk. Everyone was incredibly helpful, and no one appeared resentful of the extra steps they took for me. Again I realized that most people are glad to help someone who obviously needs it.
At home, I didn’t have the luxury of something being brought to me. After spilling coffee on the carpet a few times, I admitted defeat regarding movement of food or beverage while on crutches. I gave in and ate my meals sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter for the duration of cast time.
For once, I had an excuse not to go Christmas shopping (proving there is, indeed, a bright side to every dark situation). Can you guess I don’t have the shopping gene? I ordered gifts, cards and wrapping supplies from a mail-order catalog. (If I were out of commission during holiday shopping season nowadays, I’d shop online, which I do anyway for everything other than groceries.) While people who could use both feet fought their way through the crowds of shoppers at the mall, I relaxed. That Christmas also brought me the most unusual gift I’d ever received—a hand-crocheted cast warmer from one of my sons!
The most frustrating issue with which I had to contend was the inability to scratch my leg beneath the cast. Anyone who has ever worn a rigid cast for any length of time knows it’s an unwritten law (one of the permutations of Murphy’s Law, no doubt) that skin trapped in the warm moist environment of a plaster case will invariably develop a maddening itch. The corresponding law of nature is that trying to ignore the itch will cause it to increase tenfold. In desperation, I looked about for something harmless that I could insert inside the cast and use to scratch. (The surgeon had warned me about this possibility and said, "Don't do it.")
Ignoring his advice, I poked a plastic drinking straw inside the slight opening as far as it would go, but it still wouldn’t reach the itchy spot. I stretched my two fingers holding the straw a bit further…and dropped the straw down inside cast! Now I had an itch that hadn’t been scratched plus a “foreign object” inside my cast. Raising my leg and shaking it wouldn’t dislodge the straw. The cast was fairly snug, so that straw had gotten stuck inside, and that added to my discomfort.
Can you imagine how embarrassing it is for an adult woman to call her doctor and confess that a plastic drinking straw is trapped inside her leg cast? By the time I made that phone call, the edge of the straw was contributing to the itchiness beneath the surface of the cast. I felt like screaming from frustration.
A trip to the doctor’s office was required, where the existing cast was cut off (and the straw exposed), my leg examined for damage and a fresh cast molded onto my injured limb. Might I add that the doctor did not offer to let me scratch my leg while it was exposed, but frowned when I suggested it?
When the cast finally came off for good, it was a day for celebration. I had to use a cane for about a week, but soon was able to walk unaided. For a long time afterward, I was very aware and appreciative of being able to do simple, ordinary things, such as carrying a cup of coffee from the kitchen to the living room without spilling it.
I must credit this experience--unpleasant though it was at the time--to providing the impetus toward improving my less-than-stellar degree of patience. Like any other positive change I've attempted to make in my life and personality, developing patience requires (1) awareness of the need; (2) mindful practice; and (3) periodic "trait checks" to be sure I haven't regressed to my formerly impatient state. I don't claim to be the most patient person in the world these days, but a degree of formerly lacking patience was added to my arsenal of coping mechanisms during that three-month period when I was trapped in a bent-knee cast.
See? If you look diligently enough, you can find a positive aspect to many situations that seem completely negative upon first assessment.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2011 Jaye Denman
Jaye Denman (author) from Deep South, USA on May 25, 2014:
Hi, Bill - Thanks for sharing your story. I'm sorry your leg didn't heal properly, but I don't blame you for opting out of surgery when given the choice. While a cast seems like a 'foreign body' in the beginning, one does become accustomed to its feel, weight, texture, etc. so that it isn't a constant irritant. I hope your continuing treatment, including longer term use of a cast, will heal your bones properly.
One thing that you can do to offset the 'couch potato' effect is to try isometric exercises, including contracting and loosening the muscles of the leg within the cast. Otherwise, those muscles may atrophy.
Bill on May 25, 2014:
I slipped down a flight of stair and broke by tib and fib of my right leg. It was a pretty clean break. The doctor had an X Ray taken of my leg he gave me a choice I could either be operated on and put pins in and put me in a cast for around 3 months or he could set my leg without an operation and most likely I would be in a cast for at least 4 months and potentially much longer. I decided to not go for the operation. After a good 4 months in a long legged cast the doctor found my leg was not healing correctly and he would have to break my leg and reset it. The doctor explained that it is possible I might have to in a long leg cast for at least a year if not longer. I found after 6 months of being in a cast you do begin to become quite use to being in a cast. Some of the problems I found you do become quite out of shape being in a long legged cast you become an immediate couch potato. In looking back I am still glad I didn't have an operation and had pins put in my leg even though I know I will be in a long leg cast for a very long time and the doctor might have to break my leg again.
Jaye Denman (author) from Deep South, USA on April 19, 2014:
Anon - Sorry about your broken leg, but I'm glad you're making progress toward trading a cast for a splint. I hope your bone heals well. Thanks for reading and sharing.
Anonymous on April 19, 2014:
I have a broken leg now... I have the cast on for more than three months I have my second cast on one more to go then I hopefully get a walking splint. HIP HIP HOORAY!
Jaye Denman (author) from Deep South, USA on February 28, 2014:
Melisa - Thank you for writing and sharing your experience. I'm so sorry about your accident and fibula break and glad you found this article helpful.
You're so right that being in a cast presents many challenges, and caring for a six-year-old certainly adds to yours. I understand how difficult it is to ask for help (or even accept it) when you're accustomed to being independent. That was also a problem for me. However, people offer to help because they truly want to do something to make this time easier for you. Accepting your husband's or someone else's offer of help not only may make some aspect of your life less challenging, but will make the person who offered the help feel useful.
The proverb, "It is better to give than to receive" is meaningful here. By accepting help, you are "giving" the other person an opportunity, and he/she is able to give you the help you need.
You have five more weeks wearing a cast ahead of you, but they should become less frustrating as days go by. Try to look at it this way: you have some unexpected vacation during which to catch up on your reading or anything else you can do while wearing that cast.
Best wishes for your recovery....Jaye
Melisa on February 28, 2014:
Thank you for this! Although I know that I am not alone in my experience, there is nothing like reading or listening to someone else's experience with managing life in a cast. I broke my fibula 14 days ago as a result of a car accident and today I completed my first week in the cast. I've been struggling emotionally as my support network is next to nothing and I've a 6 year old who has been quite challenging. My husband helps as much as he can, but I'm still having a hard time asking him for help with things that I did independently prior to the injury. My weekly morning routine requires that I bring my daughter downstairs for the bus to pick her up. But getting downstairs and getting her to cooperate is a huge challenge. I feel as if I've used every body part possible to compensate for the one body part I need the most and it's just incredibly aggravating. I can't drive to work because it's a 40 mile commute each way and there's no way that I'd be able to do it. Because I'm a teacher there's no way to modify my work schedule or even have anyone pick me up. It's just not a possibility. I'm just trying to get through the next five weeks, one day at a time. I look forward to the day when this cast is finally removed. I think I'll kiss my ankle million times.
I truly enjoyed your writing. Thanks, again for the support you provide!
Jaye Denman (author) from Deep South, USA on February 08, 2014:
Hi, Sasha - I'm not a doctor, and you should mention the continuing pain to the doctor who set your broken ankle. However, I remember that when my cast was removed there was some discomfort walking right at first. You may have to use crutches or a cane for a bit longer. But do let your doctor know about the pain. Best wishes! Jaye
Sash kay on February 08, 2014:
Hi I broke my ankle and now the cast has been removed for 2 days but I still feel pain when I walk is that normal
Jaye Denman (author) from Deep South, USA on January 23, 2014:
Christina - Bless your heart (as we say here in the Deep South)! You've really got your work cut out for you while wearing a cast and caring for three children under six--not to mention the home schooling. I doubt you have much opportunity to prop your foot up during the day, but I wouldn't worry about everyone staying in PJs when the stairs seem too tough to negotiate. Give yourself a break (no pun intended).
Your foot and leg will have to regain strength once your cast is removed, but you may be surprised at how quickly you're back to your normal routine. Believe me, you will certainly appreciate being able to walk with both feet in shoes and on the floor! You used the right word to describe your experience (and mine): humbling. Wearing a cast definitely gives one a new perspective.
Thanks for your comments, for sharing your story, and I wish you the best of luck....Regards, Jaye
Christina on January 23, 2014:
Hi. I am currently in a cast myself. I have never broken a bone in my life until now. It has been a month and a half and it has been very humbling indeed. I broke the 3 metatarsals in my right foot (no driving for me). I can completely relate to your cast experience (except I don't work but have 3 children under 6yrold). Between trying to homeschool and figuring out if its worth it to climb the stairs to the bedroom and get dressed today or just have everyone stay in their pjs to deciding how badly do I really have to use the bathroom that caused my breakage in the first place, I can relate. My story is not very exciting either. My wonderful 2 yr old left a flashlight under her shirt on the bathroom floor, and I stepped down onto it (whoever thought it was a great idea to have a step leading into the bathroom needs their architectural skills examined), and I rolled my foot in half. I see that you are still responding to this great article! I have another month of this cast to go and not sure what happens next. I think I thought I would be running as soon as I get this thing off, somehow, I doubt it :) Thank you so much for sharing your experience and I had a laugh with the itching story.
Jaye Denman (author) from Deep South, USA on December 27, 2013:
Dear Pat - Thank you so much for your comments and sharing your experience. After all you've been through with surgery and wearing a cast, I do understand how you feel. After your cast is removed, you will be so joyful that you're back to "normal" and--no--you won't take normal for granted again. Wearing a cast teaches you patience, but it's nice to get it off.
Best of luck - Jaye
Pat on December 27, 2013:
I have a broken ankle broken on both sides that needed surgery so i have 8 screws two plates in my ankle with a cast on ,it feels sweaty underneath N i am scared of infection but believe it is probably just sweat,ur story made me teAr up because right now minus my cast not being over my knee which would really suck i understand completely what you were going threw,it is so hard to do nething ,bathroom ,showers,food ,makes you sad realizing you took for granted being able to do all of your ordinary activities ,if all ends well which i pray it does i am promising myself to make the most of life ,what a real eye opener
Jaye Denman (author) from Deep South, USA on April 28, 2013:
Thanks, Au fait...I'm glad you've never needed a cast, and I hope to never need one again. If I do, however, I'll remember your tip about the gauze-covered hanger.
C E Clark from North Texas on April 28, 2013:
What an ordeal! I'm so lucky I've never broken a leg or arm, etc. Hope I never do because this sounds awful. I don't think I would manage as well as you. I'm upstairs too, 21 steps up, and they're tough enough as it is. Hopping up and down them is not an option.
Next time you might try straightening a wire hanger and wrapping one end with some gauze so it isn't so sharp.
Well written and very educational. Voted up and IU.