Ankle sprains and running after ankle sprains
Ankle sprains are a risk of running and happen to most people over the course of their running career – many people more than once. Sprains involve various degrees of inflammation and ligaments
It is really important to treat ankle sprains seriously and quickly. Here are some tips for gentle sprains and how to get back running after ankle sprain injury. It may well be that a severe sprain deserves proper evaluation at the doctors, but the information in this article can help you make a decision about which next steps to take.
Why do runners suffer from ankle sprains?
When you strike the ground it is usually the outside portion of your heel that hits first. So your foot makes efforts to roll inwards so it can be flat on the ground.
Occasionally however your foot accidentally rolls to the outside. If your ankle rolls to the inside this is a different kind of sprain which is much less common.
Runners do often suffer with recurring ankle injuries. This is because the ligaments in the ankle are almost always looser than before the injury. This is why doing exercises and stretches if you have injured your ankle (once it is recovered!) is absolutely essential to minimise your chance of rolling that ankle again down the line.
Is my ankle sprain serious?
Although no bones have been broken, you must take your ankle sprain seriously. Running after ankle sprain cannot be rushed, or it really can cause significant problems. Good rehabilitation of your ankle injury is important if you want to return to full strength running after ankle sprain setback.
How to treat your own ankle injury
Use PRICE – the steps below – for three days.
Prevent any further injury to the area. Don’t try and carry on running. If you need to walk a short distance do so – but limit any weight on the area and get a lift back.
Don’t use the ankle. Use your pain as a guide. If it hurts – don’t walk or run on it.
Apply cold packs or ice to the area. Don’t put ice directly onto the skin. Wrap it in a towel or similar. Apply it for 15 minutes every few hours. Getting ice on the ankle injury as soon as possible is the most sensible treatment.
Injured tissues swell as fluid builds up and this can cause pain. Let gravity help you! Keep the injury raised if you can.
How long should I wait to exercise after a sprained ankle?
If after a few days there is no swelling and you can walk without difficulty, you might be running after ankle sprain again after two weeks.
However, if the pain or swelling is very severe, or you can’t weight bear after a few days, then you will need to be assessed by a medic – in case you’ve broken a bone. If there is no fracture then it’s a case of being patient and working hard on your rehab.
Tips for recovery from a running ankle sprain
- If you are limping when you walk consider using crutches until you no longer limp. Yes, crutches are a nuisance, but using them for just a few days can dramatically improve your recovery time. Try to walk with a normal pattern using the crutches to reduce weight on the ankle instead of keeping your foot off of the ground.
- Instead of running or walking, cycle for a few days. Cycling will help get your ankle moving during the painful period and also provides some mental therapy. Limit your running or walking distance to what you can do without limping. If you want to exercise more, supplement your program with cross training i.e. water running, cycling or an elliptical trainer.
- Ice applications help stop the inflammatory process. Wrap a flexible ice pack around your ankle for fifteen minutes with your ankle elevated (above your heart). Repeat two to four times per day and continue until the swelling is substantially improved.
- Compression helps to reduce the swelling (which will slow your recovery). Use a two inch elastic wrap to firmly wrap your ankle (not so tight that you restrict blood flow).
- As symptoms improve begin gentle calf stretches. Limitation of motion in this direction is the most common complication following an ankle sprain. Make sure you stick with these stretches until both ankles are able to bend the same amount. You shouldn’t run until this motion is equal.
Physical therapies and exercises to prevent future ankle injuries and sprains
As we said earlier, when an ankle has been sprained muscles and tendons are weakened and can allow your ankle to sprain easier. Running after ankle sprain requires some work – but the exercises are not arduous they just need repeating several times a week for a period of time.
Here are our exercises and suggestions for strengthening that ankle – meaning that running after ankle sprain is much less likely to lead to repeat injuries.
- A sprain can substantially alter your balance and lead to future injuries or re-injury. Balance training can be as simple as practicing standing on just the injured leg and letting your ankle keep you stable. When you’ve mastered that, try doing the same thing with your eyes closed.
- Sit on a chair and raise your ankle off the ground. Imagine that your big toe is a pen and write all of the letters of the alphabet with your foot. This will use your ankle is a full range of movements. Do this several times through each day.
- To strengthen your ankle and foot, put a towel on the floor in front of you – and using a crunching movement in your toes, gather the towel up towards you. When you have done the whole towel – reverse the action and push it away from you.