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Chris Chen's Story - Recovery after a Tibial Plateau Fracture

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

Chris Chen is one of our beloved physiotherapists at Royal City Physio. He has had an incredible journey this year after a ski accident left him with a broken tibia. Throughout his recovery he has been able to reflect on what rehabilitation looks like, the physical toll, and the mental strength it takes to return to sport after a set back.

Follow this blog and our Social Media Platforms to watch Chris's recovery and to get updates. Here is the start of his story...

January 2nd, 2023

Starting off the year with a sweet bluebird day up on Whistler.

Up on Glacier chair, I went a bit mad and decided to go off a lip I thought was a meter tall but turned out to be two meters - when I saw the drop I thought I would just bend my knees and land softly. Upon landing on hard pack snow, I felt quite a bit of pain in my knees and both my skis popped off. As one does, I then put the skis back on, took the chair back up, decided to call it a day, and skied out to Creekside on a pretty painful knee. If you're wondering, the most painful part was putting the ski back on after the Peak to Peak Gondola.

As a physiotherapist, you see a lot of knees getting irritated or mildly damaged due to overuse, I thought that was the case for my injury as well. After icing my knee in the car on the way home, I hobbled to bed - iced, elevated, and slept on it hoping that the swelling would decrease overnight. Unfortunately not, the next day as I couldn't put more than 30% on my weight through my leg so I decided to get some crutches to help move around. I also called my doctor to set up an x-ray to just rule out a possible fracture.

Two days from then I got the x-ray done and a few hours after that I got a call from the Radiologist to go to the Emergency room immediately. In Emergency, I got a CT scan and a referral to the orthopaedic surgeon who I saw the week after. I was told that I had sustained a tibial plateau fracture. That means that the impact was so hard that the weight of my body crashing down broke my knee (or leg).

At the ortho appointment I was told that I would not need to get surgery (thankfully) but that I would be non weight-bearing (ie. on crutches) for at least six weeks and that the process to return to activities would take three months minimum.

Next month will highlight Chris's acute rehab journey, touching on the physical requirements but also the mental resiliency needed for the beginning stages of rehabilitation. You'll see the importance of gaining range of motion and strength, and adapting activities to maintain mental health.

Phase 2

Non Weight-Bearing Exercises

After my fracture I was non-weight bearing for six weeks, meaning I was not allowed to put my body weight through my leg (ie. can't stand, walk, or jump on it). During this time, I continued exercising with the following exercises to keep some strength in my injured leg.

  • Single Leg Glute Bridges - Planting with my un-injured side, and keeping my injured leg lifted. This works the glute muscles, keeping them strong and ready for weight-bearing in the future

  • Single Leg Leg Lift - Lifting the injured side to strengthen the hip flexors and quadriceps muscles on the front of the hip and thigh. This is a great exercise to prevent muscle wasting and prepare for walking.

  • External Rotation Leg Lift - This focuses on the adductors and medial quadriceps. The adductors are important in walking and maintaining stability of the knee.

  • Side Lying Leg Lift - Lifting the injured leg only, this focuses on the hip abductors (outer portion of your hip). This muscle group is important for hip and knee control among other things.

  • Side plank with leg lift - This is a progression of the previous exercise. It's a great way to challenge the hip abductors but also incorporate abdominal strengthening.

These exercises kept me going through this tough time as I was not able to do a lot of the activities I love. If you are struggling with something similar, give them a try and see what it feels like to target these muscle groups - even if you are weight-bearing! I promise they aren’t as easy as they look

Phase 3

Using Crutches

Did you know that you shouldn’t limp when you ditch crutches?

When Chris stopped using his crutches, it was surprising to hear a bunch of his friends comment on how he was not limping - they thought he would be for sure. The thing is, we should not be limping! If you take the appropriate amount of time to load your leg, you should have no problem walking without a limp.

The key is to make sure you transition slowly - Chris made sure to transition to the different walking patterns shown to allow for his leg to carry the load.

Not included are exercises that he went through to get his affected leg prepared. So if you are going through something similar, make sure to contact a physiotherapist to help you transition to those as well.

Phase 4

Return to Sport! - A Note From Chris Chen

In this final post, I wanted to go through a few drills for coordination, which really helped me gain some confidence when returning to sport and acted as great warm-up drills which I still use!

In the below clip, we’re looking at movement going in all directions in a controlled manner. These exercises were used in combination with strength and power exercises. Later, we did drills in uncontrolled scenarios where I wouldn’t know which way to cut or move.

What I learned through this process is that although long, it’s totally worth it to get back to the things you love to do. If you need help on your journey back to your activity, reach out!

Follow us on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date.

Chris is currently back to work and has an extremely valuable perspective on rehabilitation. If you are looking for someone to guide you through your rehab journey with expertise and empathy, you can book with Chris online or by phone at 604-553-1203.


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