Sixty-one active-duty military personnel with operatively treated ankle fractures were randomized into two postoperative immobilization regimens: Group I--six weeks short-leg cast, nonweight-bearing; Group II--six weeks removable orthosis, nonweightbearing. Group I began physical therapy at six weeks postoperatively, and Group II began physical therapy within the first postoperative week. Objective measurements of swelling, strength, range of motion, and functional tests were examined. Subjective scores of pain, function, cosmesis, and motion were recorded. Patients in Group II (early mobilization) had significantly better subjective scores at three and six months postoperatively; however, time to return to duty was not significantly different. Objective tests of swelling, strength, range of motion, and functional tests were not significantly different at three months postoperatively for either group. Early mobilization in a removable orthosis, while not objectively altering the postoperative course, provides a safe, preferable method of treatment in the reliable and cooperative patient.
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