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What to Know About Tibia Fracture Recovery

A Physical Therapist Helps a Patient During a Session.

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Team USA skier, Nina O’Brien, is back in the United States to recover from leg surgery. After being involved in a frightening crash during the women’s giant slalom race during the 2022 Games in Beijing, she revealed that she fractured her tibia. The 24-year-old specified it was an open fracture through her leg on her social media account.

AdventHealth and Rothman Orthopaedics Trauma Medical Director, Michael Hawks, MD, helps explain this type of injury, what recovery looks like for patients and how our team can help. Here’s what he had to say:

What are your recommendations for surgery and physical therapy after an injury like Nina O’Brien’s?

Dr. Hawks: Nina came back to the United States for the definitive procedure to fix her bones. This will likely involve placing a rod down the center of her tibia, the large bone of the lower leg. Often, physical therapy recommendations after a surgery such as this will include full weight-bearing, full range of motion activities, and strengthening will be initiated rather soon. Given her career, a fracture care surgeon would tailor therapy with an end goal of getting her back on the slopes as soon as it’s safe.

Typically, how long is recovery?

Dr. Hawks: Young, healthy, non-smoking individuals can typically count on healing from this type of injury within three months. Assuming Ms. O’Brien is in great health and maintains a healthy diet, she may heal even sooner. Although it seems counterintuitive, progressive physical therapy and full weight-bearing on the extremity often lead to faster healing times.

Can an athlete regain the same mobility as before their injury so they can practice their sport again?

Dr. Hawks: Getting patients back to their previous level of function is the goal of every fracture care surgeon. In our practice, we put 110% effort into this goal but realize that achieving it is only successful through a partnership that includes the patient, their support system of friends, family and their physical therapy team. When everyone is giving it their best, total success is a typical outcome.

How can your fracture care physicians help with the whole recovery process (initial injury, surgery, therapy, recovery, etc.)?

Dr. Hawks: My fracture care surgeons are committed to helping all of our patients achieve their goals after injury. We are honored to be able to meet a patient on one of their worst days and help them work to accomplish all their goals. We have spent most of our lives training for the day when a patient comes into our care so that we can use all our resources, including our medical knowledge and surgical technique, our support team of physician assistants and nurse practitioners, our postoperative office visits, and our relationships with physical therapists to get that person back to the activities that bring them joy.

Forging the Future of Orthopedic Care

Thank you so much to Dr. Hawks for providing his valuable insights and expertise, as we wish Nina O’Brien a smooth recovery. Together, AdventHealth and Rothman Orthopaedics are revolutionizing orthopedic treatment and recovery. To make an appointment with one of our Orthopedic experts, click here. If you’re interested in learning more about physical therapy services, click here.

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