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What happens if you accidentally put weight on a non weight bearing foot?


Putting weight on a non-weight bearing foot or leg can lead to severe complications and setbacks in the healing process. If your doctor has instructed you not to bear weight on a leg or foot, it is crucial to follow these instructions diligently in order to allow proper healing and avoid further injury. Accidentally putting weight on the affected limb can damage bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments that are still mending. However, the occasional accidental weight bearing is usually not catastrophic if caught and corrected quickly. Being aware of the consequences and having a plan to avoid accidental weight bearing can help prevent serious harm.

Why doctors recommend not bearing weight

Doctors typically recommend not bearing weight on a foot or leg in the following situations:

  • After surgery like fracture repair, joint replacement, bunion removal, or ligament/tendon repair
  • With injuries like fractures, severe sprains, or tendon/ligament tears
  • To allow wounds, ulcers or infections to heal
  • To rest overused or inflamed joints or tendons

In these cases, weight bearing too soon can lead to:

  • Re-injury or re-fracture
  • Displacement or dislodgment of surgical hardware
  • Disruption of surgical repairs
  • Wound dehiscence (re-opening)
  • Delayed healing
  • Progression of joint damage
  • Increased pain and swelling
  • Persistent instability of joints

By giving bones, muscles, tendons and incisions time to mend without the stress of weight, non-weight bearing allows the body to heal properly. Premature weight bearing interrupts this process.

What happens if you accidentally bear weight

The consequences of accidentally putting full weight on the affected leg or foot depend on the severity and nature of the original injury or surgery. In general:

  • An occasional slight lapse where weight is briefly borne is unlikely to cause major setbacks in most cases. But the joint, bone or operative site should be monitored for increased pain, swelling or other symptoms.
  • Repeated accidental weight bearing incidents can accumulate damage and significantly delay healing.
  • A sudden forceful weight bearing event has more potential to re-fracture bones, tear repairs or stapled incisions, or displace surgical implants.

Specific injuries are at particular risk:

  • Fractures: The broken bone may re-fracture or fail to heal properly if weight is borne too soon. Pain at the fracture site indicates too much mechanical stress.
  • Tendon/ligament tears: Premature weight bearing can re-tear repaired soft tissues or worsen instability in healing tears. Extreme pain with weight bearing should be heeded.
  • Joint replacements: The prosthetic components can loosen or dislocate if weighted too soon after surgery. Sudden intense pain should be evaluated.
  • Foot/ankle surgeries: Metatarsal repairs, bunionectomies and osteotomies require protected weight bearing to prevent bone displacement and disruption of hardware like pins, screws and plates.

Overall, sudden intense pain, swelling, feeling of re-injury, or sensation of implants moving should prompt immediate medical re-evaluation after any accidental weight bearing.

How to prevent accidental weight bearing

While occasional brief lapses in non-weight bearing can occur, the goal is to avoid it. Strategies to help prevent accidental weighting include:

  • Using crutches or a walker. Swing-to gait on crutches avoids putting weight through injured leg.
  • Wearing a boot cast or brace that eliminates range of motion.
  • Using knee scooters or wheelchairs for mobility.
  • Elevating the leg when seated to remind you not to stand on it.
  • Having someone help you balance when standing up/moving.
  • Staying vigilant about keeping weight off the side 100% of the time.
  • Calling for help if feeling unsteady.
  • Arranging your home environment to limit tripping hazards.
  • Weighing yourself and comparing to your weight bearing only on one leg to gauge accidental weighting.

Making adjustments around the home and using mobility aids can help reduce the chances of forgetting and standing on the healing leg. Having someone assist you initially can also help establish habits to avoid putting weight through the affected side. Staying focused helps prevent momentary lapses.

What to do if you accidentally bear weight

If you do accidentally put full weight on the injured leg or foot, take these immediate steps:

  • Get off the leg quickly but safely to avoid falling.
  • Sit down and examine the area for new injury or symptoms like pain, swelling, numbness.
  • If surgical, check for signs of wound breakdown, bleeding, or implant issues.
  • Elevate the leg to reduce swelling.
  • Take pain medication if prescribed.
  • Use ice packs around the area to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Limit weight bearing for next 24-48 hours.
  • Call your surgeon if any concern for new damage or complications.
  • Be vigilant about avoiding further lapses in weight bearing.
  • Consider using more protective bracing or another assistive device.
  • Potentially have imaging done to check for re-injury if symptoms persist.

The key is responding quickly to minimize effects of the lapse. Usually damage is not severe if caught and treated right away. But repeat events can accumulate problems. Follow up with your surgeon, and be open about the accident so they can readjust the treatment plan if needed for proper healing.

When can you start bearing weight normally?

Your physician will guide the progression back to normal weight bearing based on the injury and how healing is progressing. A gradual increase in weight bearing is ideal. This may involve:

  • Keeping strict non-weight bearing for 4-6 weeks after surgery.
  • Advancing to touch-down weight bearing with crutches.
  • Progressing to partial weight bearing with a set weight limit.
  • Using a walking boot for transitional weight bearing.
  • Eventually weaning off crutches and boot over weeks.
  • Continuing physical therapy to normalize gait, strength and balance.

Factors that indicate readiness for weight bearing include:

  • X-rays or CT scans showing adequate bone healing.
  • No increased pain/swelling with graduated weight bearing steps.
  • Incisions fully closed and healed.
  • Muscle activation and balance to protect the area with gait.
  • Surgeon determination that weight bearing will no longer disrupt healing tissues.

The timeline varies dramatically depending on your unique injury. Patience during non-weight bearing allows you to eventually resume normal activities. Premature weight bearing can prolong the process. Communicate regularly with your medical providers to ensure you remain on track with the appropriate weight bearing plan.


Accidentally putting weight on leg or foot that should be non-weight bearing can happen, but diligence is key. Use of mobility aids, home adjustments, assistance from others and staying focused can help prevent lapses. If an accident occurs, quickly get off the leg, control symptoms, and re-engage your protective strategy to avoid repeat errors. With a careful progression under your doctor’s guidance, you can eventually bear weight fully again once healing allows. Patience and compliance with activity restrictions optimizes recovery.