If you have suffered an ankle injury, you have likely heard an assortment of things you should and should not do. While some of the advice might be perfectly harmless or even beneficial, other advice could actually be harmful. Overall, the key to treating ankle injuries is making sure you are able separate ankle injury treatment facts from fiction. Here are five things you may have heard about ankle injuries and their treatment.
1. Just Play Through the Pain of a Sprain
When it comes to an injury such as a sprained ankle, some athletes have the attitude that playing through the pain makes them tougher and will somehow force the injured ankle to become stronger. That is not true. Repeated use of the injured ankle will weaken the joint, possibly stretching, weakening, or tearing the injured ligaments, making the injured area even more unstable. Unfortunately, this can make what was once a minor sprain into something more serious. An unstable ankle may lead to you tripping, falling, and breaking something. Instead of sitting out a few games, you could be sitting out for the rest of the season, or even longer, while your injury heals.
Along with the idea of playing through the pain is the assumption that once the pain starts to go away, you can return to your regular activities. This is also not true. Particularly with a serious ankle injury, you will have to slowly ease back into your regular activities.
2. Stay Completely Off Your Injured Ankle
Staying completely off your injured ankle is on the opposite side of the spectrum from the playing through the pain philosophy. How long and how much you need to stay off the ankle really depends upon the severity of the injury. Your doctor can help you understand the specifics of your individual situation. For example, with a Grade 1 sprain, your doctor will have you putting weight on the ankle probably within one to three days. With Grade 2 and 3 ankle sprains, you may be given a boot or splint to immobilize the ankle. You might be told to use crutches. While your ankle might be immobilized, your doctor may have you use a walking cast, which will allow you to slow begin putting weight on the injured ankle.
Even with a fractured ankle or other serious ankle injury, your doctor will not want you just sitting around, never using your ankle. You may need to start with physical therapy, where in the beginning you will only be using your ankle on a limited basis with a qualified individual present. For the first few sessions, you may not even put any weight on the ankle. It might just be a matter of the physical therapist moving your ankle around for you. Avoiding using the ankle at all until it is completely healed could result in stiffness or other problems, which could make rehabilitation even harder. For the fastest healing, be sure to always follow your doctor’s instructions when it comes to using your ankle.
3. Some People Are Just Going to Injure Their Ankles No Matter What They Do
While there are people who are more susceptible to sprained ankles and other ankle injuries, there are several steps you can take to reduce your chances of injuring your ankle. These actions work even if you have weak ankles or if you have suffered a previous ankle injury.
- Wear an ankle brace when participating in more strenuous activities. This is generally only suggested if you have experienced a previous sprain, or there is another reason you might be more prone to injuring your ankle.
- Wear comfortable shoes that are appropriate for the activity. Make sure your shoes are in good condition. Avoid wearing shoes where the heel is worn on one side.
- Exercise regularly and stay in good shape. This includes eating healthy so you can maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoid physical activity when you are tired or in pain. Make sure you are appropriately conditioned for any sports you are participating in. This might means slowly easing into a new sport.
- Make sure you have stretched and warmed up enough before participating in any physical activity.
- When possible, only run on level surfaces. You are more likely to twist or hurt your ankle if you are running on an uneven surface, particularly one with ruts.
- Avoid running on slick surfaces. You may slip and fall.
- Make sure your floors are free of clutter, particularly if you are going to be walking around in the dark. Tripping over a toy, a book, or another item could result in a serious ankle injury.
- If you have injured your ankle, make sure it has healed properly before participating in strenuous exercises. Helping your ankle to heal may include physical therapy as well as doing exercises that will strengthen your ankle muscles.
Of course, even if you do work to take the proper precautions, you may still injure your ankle, particularly if you are already at a higher risk of an ankle injury. For example, if you have previously sprained your ankle or had another ankle injury, you are more likely to suffer an ankle sprain. People who participate in sports where you are running, jumping, or changing directions quickly are also more likely to suffer an ankle injury. This includes sports such as soccer, football, tennis, and basketball. The more things you do to try to prevent the injury, though, the less likely you are to hurt your ankle, and the less likely the injury will be severe.
4. It Can’t Be That Serious; It Just Got Twisted While Walking
While most serious ankle injuries are associated with athletics or something such as a serious car crash, even something such as a broken ankle can be the result of twisting your ankle while doing something as simple as walking. Do not assume that the injury is minor simply because you were not doing something strenuous. Also, never assume that just because you can still walk that the ankle injury is not serious.
5. Soak the Ankle in Warm Water
While the warm water might feel good on the injured ankle, it also increases blood flow to the area, which in turn can increase the swelling. While warmth can have its place in relieving ankle stiffness and pain, you should wait for the swelling to start to go down before attempting to use heat to reduce the pain. A doctor can often help you understand when heat is an appropriate treatment.
Instead of using heat to treat your injured ankle directly after the injury, use RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) for an at-home treatment. Stop doing whatever activity you were doing, and rest the ankle. You may need to be off the ankle for only a day or two, or you might need to rest it several weeks. That really depends upon the extent of the injury.
While resting your ankle, apply ice. This will help reduce swelling and act as a pain relief. Never apply ice directly to the ankle. Instead, wrap the ice pack in a towel, and apply it to the injured area. Keep the ice on for about fifteen to twenty minutes at a time.
Wrapping a compression bandage around the injured ankle will provide support and keep the ankle more stable. It can also help to keep the swelling down. While the bandage should provide support, it should not be too tight. Rewrap the ankle if it is too tight.
Elevation is the final part of treating your ankle at home. Prop your ankle up on a chair, raising the ankle so it is above your heart level. You may want to put pillows under the ankle for comfort and to bring the ankle up high enough. You may also want to elevate your ankle at night while you are sleeping. Elevating your ankle will help to reduce swelling.
Of course, if the ankle is clearly broken or otherwise seriously injured, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. RICE can only go so far in healing your injury.
If you have suffered a sprain or other ankle injury, contact us. We have an assortment of products that can get you back in the game sooner and keep your ankle better protected once you start participating in sports again.