Got an email from an athlete who broke his fibula during basketball practice. He’s wondering if he will be able to get his athleticism back for triple jump in the spring. Answer…

“1. When bones heal, they heal well. They are not like ligaments, which get stretched out and never return to the same tightness. Bones heal completely, so it should not be a long-term problem. If there is soft tissue damage around the breaks, that would be the thing that could bother you in the future.

2. The fibula is not a weight-bearing bone. The tibia, your shin bone, bears the weight and takes most of the shock coming up from the ground. There is still plenty of force on the fibula, but it’s largely from the attached muscles pulling on it. Pounding your foot into the ground in triple jump should not be especially risky for your fibula, because it’s very controlled. The awkward landings in basketball are probably more dangerous, as you found out. Hopefully that’s enough to get you past the mental barrier.

3. You should get some increase in muscle fiber twitch-speed from the rest you’ll get while you recover. Read about the Overshoot Phenomenon. Your nervous system will also be fresh after the rest. So your rate of force development should actually be higher when you come back. Your issue will be regaining strength, which is the other factor in the equation for power. Power is what produces athleticism.

4. I know you’ll probably be using crutches to get around a lot. But if you also spend time bouncing around on your healthy leg, that’s actually a great stimulus. That leg could get stronger while you recover. It would probably be best if that is your non-jumping leg. Obviously you need both for triple jump. If your off leg is injured, it’s just going to fall even further behind now.

5. If your healthy leg gets stronger from bouncing around on it, that could actually help your injured leg as well. In research, they found that training biceps strength in one arm increases strength in that arm AND also increases strength to a smaller extent in the untrained arm. The body applies some of the nervous system adaptation to the untrained arm as well. I don’t know if they’ve done similar research with lower body training, but I would think the results would be the same.

6. So the biggest challenge you’ll be facing is just getting your muscle back. Your injured leg is going to shrink down while you’re not using it. Fortunately, regaining muscle mass is typically a pretty quick process. Once you’re able to return to full activity, the muscle mass should come back within a month. Be sure to use some quality strength training as part of that process. But at the same time don’t scale up the workload on that leg too fast.

So altogether, yes, I think you can get your athleticism back and have a good track season. You may even be surprised by how well you perform, because the rest you get now will benefit you in the long run.”