Tibial Plateau Fracture Recovery Part One (An Overview)

I hope you aren’t here looking for a recipe today. Looking at the above photo always makes me cringe when I think back to that fateful day…May 20th 2017… which definitely qualifies as a “recipe for disaster.” So there’s that.

Yes, folks, somehow I managed to acquire a tibial plateau fracture (TPF.) This particular fracture makes up only 1% of all fractures. Just let that sink in for a bit. ONE PERCENT of all fractures sustained WORLDWIDE!!!!  Why can’t my chances of winning the lottery be this lucky? Hey, but I am now the proud owner of all that shiny hardware!

The tibia is the large shin bone in the leg. I broke the proximal end or the upper surface which is situated below the knee joint. It is a critical weight bearing bone, as it carries all of our upper body weight. Tibial plateau fractures usually result from axial loading in combination with varus/valgus stress forces. The lateral side of the knee joint is most commonly injured during road traffic accidents, which results in torn ligaments, sprains, and fractures of one or both condyles. Tibial plateau fractures are intra-articular fractures caused by high-velocity trauma. (Source)

I actually have what is described as a bicondylar break, meaning I broke off both sides of the tibial plateau. To date, I’m still not sure of how many pieces my bone shattered into. I once asked my surgeon at a post operative visit how many screws I had. His response? “As many as it took to put it back together.” Alllrighty then. I never asked again, but I did count some 9 ish screws and 2 plates.

Not every break requires surgery and it really is the physician’s call once x-rays, MRI’s, and CT scans have been evaluated. Because the tibia is such a critical weight bearing bone, all TPF’s require a period of non weight bearing in order to heal. And by “period” I mean 2 to 3 months! (8-12 weeks!) On paper it sounds like no big deal right? Wrong. It literally felt as if time stood still.

If you somehow landed here and are reading this, it’s probably because you have or know someone who has this awful fracture and are looking for answers. I was once that person desperately seeking information and any glimmer of hope about my injury, surgery, and recovery. Most everything I read on my travels through the interwebs, aside from the medical sights detailing and describing the technicalities of the injury, was so dark and depressing. After reading personal horror stories on forums, I literally had myself convinced I would not ever walk again.

I’m here to tell you that it does get better, and you WILL walk again. However, before that happens you should know that recovery from this injury can take anywhere from 1-3 years. I’m now 18 weeks post op and I’m walking without any assistive devices. Albeit slow and with a slight limp. In the grand scheme of things, you will get back to most, if not all of your daily activities.

In my internet travels, I’ve even seen people get back to their extreme sports such as triathlons, mountain climbing, skiing, and mountain biking. I was never an extreme athlete so I’m just happy to be back to walking for exercise and weight strengthening. Although, I’m not doing anything too strenuous with weights right at the moment. I’m still trying to build my leg muscles back, and that doesn’t come as easy and as quickly as they atrophied. Ironically, I had just discovered my love for walking only a few months before my injury.

At this point you are probably wondering what sort of accident I sustained to be able to call myself one of the lucky 1%. I was thrown off a runaway horse. It was the most horrifying experience of my life to date. My boyfriend, his brother and his girlfriend, their mother, and myself were all partaking in what was supposed to be a leisurely trail ride.

Instead, it turned into a nightmare. We were in a park which was part of our equestrian trail ride. It was a wide open pasture and there were several activities going on in the area that day. Our whole group of horses were spooked by something, and began with mine setting off a chain reaction by taking off like a bat out of hell, with the others following suit, unbeknownst to me.

My horse bucked a few times and I somehow managed to hang on before it bolted off. The horse was barreling towards a white fenced in area that appeared to be a place where equestrian events were held. All I could think was… this horse is going to jump that fence and I’m going to tumble forward hit my head and either be paralyzed or die. I struggled to hold on to the reins as I desperately pulled back on them trying to stop the horse. I had no control of the situation. That horse did not give a care as to who or what was on it. It wanted me off and to be far away from whatever spooked it.

Literally at the last second, it averted the fence and went around the side to where there were bleachers situated. Right before we approached the bleachers, the horse had slowed down a little, just enough to buck me off. I somehow turned mid air as I was falling ending up facing the opposite direction I was going. I landed straight on my back. My head hit the gravel and I remember seeing a flash of light. I opened my eyes and immediately drew in a breath of air and started taking a body inventory.

The first thing I acknowledged is that I was alive and I was able to sit up. I wasn’t paralyzed. I spit out the sand and grit in my mouth, also noting that I had landed in an ant pile. If they were biting me, I never felt it because I was focused on the excruciating pain in my left leg. My knee was bent at a 45 degree angle and I couldn’t straighten it out. My left shoulder was also hurt. I knew immediately that both were broken.

By the time I had gotten my wits about me, I started to wonder where the rest of my group was. For a few seconds it seemed eerily quiet. People in the park were starting to make their way over to me to tend to my injuries. At one point, two people approached on a horse to see what happened and I freaked out. I asked the lady standing next to me to ask them to leave because I feared the horses would trample me. They kindly obliged.

Just on the other side of the bleachers behind some trees I could hear my boyfriend’s brother yelling at someone to call for ambulances, that 3 more people were down. Oh my god, what happened to everyone? I called out to my boyfriend’s brother, “Dave! I’m over here. What happened, where is Terry?” Dave came over to me and told me to stay put on the ground. “Where’s Terry?” I asked again.  He finally replied, “He got knocked out, but he’s awake now. My mom has a broken leg. Just stay here, everybody just stay where they are at!” he yelled. I could tell he meant business. I began to cry.

I wanted to get up to go check on my boyfriend, but I couldn’t move. I knew my leg was broke. The ambulances finally arrived and took 4 of us to the hospital. 4 out of the 5 people in our group were all thrown off the horses. Dave was able to stop his horse and dismount. His horse was a giant by the way, and he said it almost ran over his mother who was laying on the ground.

At the emergency room, we were all x-rayed and tended to as a stat trauma. My boyfriend’s mother had suffered a broken fibula. I suffered a left shoulder avulsion fracture which was treated with a sling, and diagnosed with a left tibial plateau fracture. They told me I wouldn’t be walking for 3 months. My boyfriend suffered a slight concussion and was released within an hour after evaluation. Dave’s girlfriend was also released with a shoulder sprain as well as some other aches and pains.

My boyfriend’s mom and I were admitted to the hospital and both had surgery the next day. She had a rod placed down her right leg and I had an external fixator placed on my leg to stabilize the fracture so the swelling could go down before I had Open Reduction Internal Fixation surgery. They told me it could be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks in the external fixator.

I was so glad they wrapped my leg in a bandage. I couldn’t bear looking at those pins sticking out of my leg. And the pain. Oh the pain! I spent the next 4 days in the hospital under close watch and pain management. I was given the option to have my second surgery to fix the fracture there, but I was also 3 hours from home. We were staying at my boyfriend’s bother’s house that weekend because their mother makes a visit from out of state every year for Mother’s Day. I felt so bad for her. I was released after 4 days and was able to make the trip back home to have my surgery. She was in the hospital for close to 2 weeks working with physical therapy before she was discharged.

So there you have it. Part one of my tibial plateau fracture recovery.  Stay tuned for my next post and future posts detailing the events leading up to my surgery and recovery trials and tribulations.

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  1. avatar

    Oh how traumatic Sherri! I love that you wrote about this, I can’t wait for your second update.


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